Aufheben #11 (2003)

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 25, 2006

Review of Change the World Without taking Power

Aufheben review John Holloway's 2002 book
Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005


Since the events of Seattle in Autumn 1999, there have been numerous books and articles that have either purported to define or explain the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist movement, or else have sought to give this rather amorphous 'movement' some theoretical expression. At first sight Change the World Without Taking Power seems just another book jumping on this post-Seattle bandwagon. Indeed, with its cover image of a badly drawn balaclavered 'activist' abseiling down a wall, paint-brush in hand, it is clear that the publishers hope to tap into the growing market for anti-globalization books. However, on closer inspection, Change the World Without Taking Power is not just another such book.

In his previous work, John Holloway has made important theoretical contributions, particularly with his contributions to the debate of the 1970s and 1980s over the nature of the state.[1] In Change the World Without Taking Power Holloway attempts to radically revise the notion of revolutionary change in the light of both the failure of the revolutionary project in the twentieth century and emergence of the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist movement of recent years.

However, as he himself admits, much of his previous work was written in an often obscure and difficult style that made few concessions to the non-academic reader. Furthermore, in developing what were often highly abstract theoretical formulations Holloway rarely drew out their political implications. In contrast, in Change the World Without Taking Power, Holloway goes to great lengths to make what he says accessible. But in doing so Holloway does his best not to sacrifice his theoretical rigour.

Basing himself on Marx's theories of alienation and fetishism, Holloway mounts a formidable attack on the objectivism of traditional Marxism, and shows how such objectivism leads to a state-centred view of revolutionary transformation. Yet in attacking the objectivism of traditional Marxism in this way Holloway avoids the trap of falling into the pessimism and defeatism of post-modernism and 'post-Marxism'. Of course, such a critique of the objectivism of traditional Marxism, and its significance for contemporary social movements, is far from being new. Indeed, it is a project that has been regularly taken up in the pages of Aufheben. However, what is important about this book is that Holloway makes a serious attempt to set out this critique in a clear and succinct manner.

There is much in Change the World Without Taking Power that we would agree with, and we would hope that it finds a wide readership particularly amongst activists in the anti-capitalist movement, however, as we shall see, we can only recommended it with certain reservations.

The scream

Holloway takes as his starting point what he terms the 'scream': that is the immediate subjective refusal of life under capitalism. In taking up this starting point Holloway can be seen to place himself unequivocally on the side of the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist activist. After all, what is that unites the diverse individuals that make up the black blocs, the social forums, the Zapatistas and Indian farmers but a refusal of the horrors and banalities of capitalism rooted in their direct or indirect experience?

For Holloway, it is by basing itself on the immediacy of the 'scream' that the anti-capitalist/anti-globalization movement offers the hope of breaking free from the failed politics of social change that has been dominant through much of the twentieth century. Yet in embracing the 'new politics' of anti-capitalist/anti-globalization movement Holloway is concerned not to succumb to the gut reaction of many within the movement that leads to rejection of both theory in general and the ideas of Marx in particular. Indeed one of first tasks of Holloway's book is to show how this very gut reaction to theory, and the politics of traditional Marxism, can itself be grounded in the ideas of Marx.

For Holloway the problem of most social theory that has come to inform the politics of social change is that it has become dominated by the positivism that has become the orthodox approach in most of the social sciences in the twentieth century. The study of society has taken as its model the scientific method of the natural sciences in which the theorist is an objective and detached observer who seeks to analyse what is immediately apparent and measurable. This point of departure and method leads to a 'logic of identity' that reduces social relations to a mechanical and objective relation between things.

This 'logic of identity' tends to preclude the possibility of social transformation internal to social relations themselves. Of course, for bourgeois social theory, this preclusion of internal change serves well as an ideological defence of the status quo. However, for more critical social theory this positivistic approach requires that hopes for social change have to be imported from the outside (e.g. in the form of the autonomous development of technology or in the form of the revolutionary party bringing consciousness to proletariat etc.). Against this Holloway argues:

The starting point of theoretical reflection is opposition, negativity, struggle. It is from rage that thought is born, not from the pose of reason, not from the reasoned-sitting-back-and-reflecting-on-the-mysteries-of existence that is the conventional image of the 'thinker'. We start from negation, from dissonance. The dissonance can take many shapes. An inarticulate mumble of discontent, tears of frustration, a scream of rage, a confident roar. An unease, a confusion, a longing, a critical vibration. (p.1).

The problem is that the most radical and developed social theory that emerged from the nineteenth century, and which was to dominate the politics of social change in twentieth century, has itself come under the spell of positivism. For the Marxist theorists of the Second International at the end of the nineteenth century Marxism was above all a science and as such they came to interpret Marx's ideas in positivistic terms. For Holloway this became evident in the politics of state-led social change that the Second International bequeathed to the twentieth century.

Although the Second International split between reformists and revolutionists, for both sides of this split the state was seen as an essential tool for bringing about socialism. For the reformists who came to dominate social democratic parties across the world, the state was something that was essentially class-neutral and as such could be captured as it was and used to further interests of the working class and the cause of socialism. In contrast the revolutionists recognized that the state, as presently constituted, was a bourgeois state; it was therefore necessary to reconstruct the state so that it could be used by the working class.

For both the reformists and the revolutionists, the state was seen as a thing that was more or less suitable to be used as a principal tool to bring about social transformation. Indeed, as Holloway points out, this conception of the state was also shared by traditional anarchism. The only difference being that for the anarchists the state was a tool that could only be used by the ruling class, and which could not be reconstructed.

Drawing on his contributions to the state debate, Holloway criticizes such instrumentalist conceptions of the state which fetishize the state as a thing. Instead Holloway argues that the state must be seen as a distinct social form that arises from the social relations of capitalism. The state is not essentially some thing that is externally imposed on us, but is a form that arises from the practical activity between people in a society based on generalized commodity exchange.

In presenting his critique of the instrumentalist conceptions of the state that underpin the state-orientated politics of social change of the twentieth century, Holloway is led to set out Marx's theory of fetishism and alienation on which this critique is based: how the relations between people that arise out of their practical activity appears under capitalism as a relation between things and consequently how the movement of things, the products of their practical activity, come to dominate people. However, Holloway does not develop this theory of fetishism and alienation in the familiar terms of Marx. Instead of talking in terms of capital and labour, Holloway talks in the more general terms of the 'power over' and the 'power to' and in terms of the dominance of the 'done' over the 'doing'.

It must be admitted that avoiding the more familiar terms associated with Marx has certain advantages for Holloway. First, it allows Holloway, at an early stage in the book, to avoid introducing Marx's 'jargon', which may well put off all those anarchos and others that are in some way allergic to Marx. Second, it allows Holloway to avoid an economistic interpretation which may arise if terms such as labour, labour-power and capital were to be used. Indeed, Holloway's terms serve to emphasize the essential unity of the political and the economic, which is a point that he is keen to make. Thirdly, in using these new terms Holloway is able to reinvigorate Marx's theory of fetishism and go beyond the old formulations for a new generation of revolutionaries.

However, in talking in terms of 'doing' and 'done', 'power over' and 'power to', Holloway is not merely substituting synonyms into Marx's theory but in an important way is generalizing these concepts. As we shall see later, when we come to consider our reservations concerning Change the World Without Taking Power, such a generalization is problematic.

Avoiding the deep blue sea

Of course, the critique of the positivism of traditional Marxism of the Second and Third Internationals is nothing new. It is a critique that has its origins in the 1920s with the writings of Lukacs and Korsch and became prominent in the development of what became known as Western Marxism - a development that was to take a decidedly pessimistic turn.

The defeat of the classical workers' movement after the first world war brought with it a critical reappraisal of traditional Marxism. The Marxism of the Second and Third Internationals acted as if the working class was a positive category that subsisted prior to its subsumption to capital. As such, the relation of the working class to capital was essentially an external one. As a consequence, bourgeois ideology was merely a mystification that was imposed on the working class from the outside and was opposed to the proletariat's own objective class interests. From this it followed that the task of Marxists was simply to counter the mystifications of bourgeois propaganda and teach the working class the objective truth revealed by the doctrines of scientific socialism. Socialist transformation, whether by reform or revolution, merely depended on bringing the subjective consciousness of the working class into accord with its objective class situation.

However, with the failure of the workers' revolutions that followed the first world war, and with the increasingly evident degeneration of the Russian Revolution, this conception of the working class was put into question. If capital and labour were seen as mutually determining categories then bourgeois ideology could not be seen as simply being imposed on the working class. Instead it had to be admitted that bourgeois ideology adopted by the working class was rooted in its own practical and material experience. The fetishism of social relations, which in making relations between people appear as a natural and eternally ordained relation between things, was a real illusion.

For Lukacs the way out of such fetishism was through the Party which overcame the limited fetishistic view-point of each individual proletarian by providing a view of the totality. However, for those of the Frankfurt School, writing during the rise of both Stalinism and Fascism little comfort could be gained from invoking the totalitarianism of the Party. In their hands the theory of fetishism became a doctrine of despair. For them socialist intellectuals were doomed to labour endlessly at making criticisms of capitalist society that would inevitably be ignored by those who alone could put such criticisms into practice - the working class.

In recent decades the positivism not only of traditional Marxism but also most mainstream social sciences has come under attack from Post-Structuralist and Post-Modernist writers. Armed with anti-essentialism, relativism and the rejection of 'grand narratives', Post-Modernists have questioned both the supposed objectivity of positivist science and the idea of the rational bourgeois subject. As such they have in effect developed a theory of fetishism. However, like the Frankfurt School before them, the Post-Modernist theory of fetishism has ended up even more as a counsel of despair. Sweeping away everything apart from the fetishism of appearances, there is no hope of escape. The conclusion is either an endless struggle against some amorphous power, as with Foucault, or else the struggle is given up and the estranged world of capitalism is embraced and celebrated.

So as Holloway is keenly aware, in fleeing from the devil of positivism, the theory of fetishism has all too easily fallen into the deep blue sea of despair. Holloway is keenly aware of such danger, having no doubt seen many erstwhile comrades passing from Marxism to Blairism via Post-Modernism. Yet it is a danger not confined to academic fashions. In the current period of working class retreat, the notion that the working class has been unredeemably integrated into the bourgeois society is a common one and appears in various guises of greater or lesser sophistication. It appears, for example, in the despair of primitivism, whether of the green anarchos or of Camatte.

However, Holloway argues - and this is perhaps the most important argument of the entire book - that such theories of fetishism are themselves fetishistic. They take fetishism as a once and for all imposed state of being rather than as a process that has to be continually renewed and which involves its antithesis - defetishism. As such the working class is only ever provisionally integrated within bourgeois society and the process is always liable to rupture sooner or later.

For Holloway both the state and capital are not things; they do not exist independently of each other or from us. The state and capital are two sides of a social relation that is constituted through a constantly renewed process. This process is nothing other than that of class struggle.

Throwing out the baby

As we have seen, Holloway sets out to place himself on the side of the anti-globalization movement. In doing so, Holloway sets out a clear and accessible critique of the positivistic and objectivist conceptions of traditional Marxism without falling foul of the pessimism of the critical theory of the likes of the Frankfurt School or of Post-Modernism. However, in taking the side of the anti-globalization movement, no doubt in the face of the cynicism of his former comrades and colleagues, Holloway ends up merely cheering from the sidelines. Indeed, what is perhaps most striking about Change the World Without Taking Power is its completely uncritical attitude towards anti-globalization movement and, in particular, the Zapatistas.

This result is no accident. Holloway's uncritical attitude can be seen to arise from the development of his critique of traditional Marxism. This becomes evident if we consider Holloway's theory concerning class.

Holloway quite correctly attacks the sociological approach to the question of class. This approach first of all seeks to define class by a certain set of fixed characteristics. Then once class is defined in such a manner it is then asked how this class acts in relation to other classes. Against this approach Holloway argues that class defines and constitutes itself through class struggle. As such class is not a fixed identity but a process.

As Holloway points out, this conception that the working class is constituted through class struggle was recognized and developed by the Italian Autonomists in the 1960s and early 1970s.[2] For the Italian autonomists the history of capitalism was a history of class struggle. The working class repeatedly composes itself as a class against capital and consequently capital is obliged to react by reorganizing production in order to decompose the working class. Thus the history of capitalism is a continuous spiral of class composition and decomposition centred around the process of the production of surplus value. Thus whereas traditional Marxism saw capital as the active subject which imposed itself on the working class, the autonomists saw the working class as an active subject that drove the development of capitalism forward.

However, despite its merits in grasping class as an historical process that constitutes itself through the process of class struggle, Holloway identifies two interrelated problems in the approach of the Italian autonomists. Firstly, to the extent that they simply reversed the roles of capital and labour so that the working class became the active subject, the autonomists were in danger of returning to a positivistic conception of the working class. The working class could easily be seen as constituting itself as a self-subsistent class autonomous from capital. As such the autonomists had merely changed the signs of the equation of traditional Marxism. Whereas traditional Marxists had seen capital as imposing itself on a pre-existent working class, the autonomists saw the working class imposing itself on capital. But both like traditional Marxism this relation could be seen as an external one.[3]

To the extent that the autonomists saw the relation between capital and the working class as an external relation they tended to develop the notion of two independent subjects - capital and labour - and hence of the confrontation of two strategies. Class conflict was seen as essentially political and the theory of value, that shows the interdependence of capital and labour, tended to be abandoned. For Holloway, by denying the mutual dependence of capital and the working class, by seeing them as self-subsistent positive categories, the autonomists tended to over estimate the power of both.[4]

The second problem of Italian autonomism was that the historical accounts of the development of capitalism held the danger of projecting particular social subjects that emerged from the struggles at the point of production as the exclusive or most important for the entire epoch. Struggles that did not arise at the point of production, and those that did arise from the point of production but which were not considered typical or dominant, were necessarily overlooked and considered unimportant. As such, the early autonomist theories were distinctly workerist, in the English sense of the term, and denied the validity of struggles that emerged outside of the work-place.

Against these dangers inherent within autonomist Marxism, Holloway insists on both the plurality and negativity of the scream. For Holloway, the working class constitutes itself as a radical subject through its refusal to be reduced to being the working class. On this basis Holloway seeks to embrace the multiplicity of refusal - 'the politics of diversity' - that is so evident and so celebrated in the anti-globalization movement.

However, the later Italian autonomists also sought to embrace the growing multiplicity of struggles outside the work-place in the late 1970s by developing the concept of the social factory. In doing so, the autonomists announced the new social subject - the socialized worker - in which all activity from housework to studying to taking holidays was reduced to work. The problem with this, of course, is that all differences are abolished every activity is labour - everything is the same. With everything flattened out, there is no room for critical analysis.[5]

Holloway effectively does the same but from the opposite perspective. By generalizing labour and capital to the dominance of 'done' over 'doing' Holloway dissolves work into general human activity. Of course it is true that all human activity within capitalist society is in some way subordinated and shaped by capital. But activity that directly produces capital and that which does not - labour and non-labour is an important difference. This might not mean that one form is inherently more important than another in terms of social change but that the differences must be recognized and their relative importance will be different in different historical circumstances.

This blurring of differences in relation to work underpins a broader blurring of differences within and between classes that leads Holloway, like many autonomist Marxists, into an uncritical acceptance of all forms of refusal. Holloway comes dangerously close to a position of liberal humanism. After all, under capitalism, everyone's activity - the capitalist's included - is alienated. Hence, underneath 'we are all human'. Class becomes so fluid that it is dissolved into a general humanism. For Holloway there is 'no them and us' only us! But there is a 'them': there are those who are well content in the roles as personifications of capital and are quite prepared to destroy any who would threaten capital's dominance!

"I scream therefore I am working class"

Yet it is perhaps Holloway's very starting point that is most problematic. The scream is only an abstract moment in our being. If we are to be in this world we must comply in some way or another. However much we may scream, we have no option but to make our own way in this world. To survive we must as individuals subordinate ourselves to the process of capital's own expanded reproduction. The scream comes out of this forced compliance.

In a very real sense capital is nothing other than our separation brought about by our compliance. It is nothing more than the reproduction of the reified and alienated relations that bind us together through our very separation. Indeed the power of capital is our separation. Capital is never more powerful than when we exist as merely isolated individuals, however much we may scream as a result.

As such, revolution is nothing other than the overcoming of this separation in which we seek to reconstitute human relations unmediated by things and their price. But in overcoming our separations we have to recognize the existing objective differences that separate us in order to overcome them. Revolution involves a process of totalization - indeed a process of recomposition - in which we find unity in our diversity against capital and all those who seek to defend it. In this sense, we have to find our unity as a class against capital; however, this does not mean that class is grasped as a positive thing separate from capital but as a process that has the potential to go beyond itself - as well as the danger of dissolving into atomized individuals or sectional interest that are recuperated and reintegrated into capital.

The scream is necessary not sufficient. The scream may be the seed of revolution, as Holloway contends, but unless it develops, unless it links up and makes common cause with other screams, then it can all too easily become another brick in the wall. All struggles that are brought to a halt become recuperated and reintegrated into the world as it is.

The failure to recognize both the objective conditions that separate us and give rise to different screams from different circumstances, and the ever present danger of recuperation in which the scream is absorbed and becomes a form of compliance is the Achilles heel of Holloway's book. Holloway all too easily falls into a cheer-leading of any form of resistance - a cheer-leading that is often little more than a celebration of our defeats and atomization in the name of the 'wonderful diversity of struggles'. With such an uncritical and complacent attitude the danger is that we are unable to find ways to move forward and are unable to recognize the danger of the recuperation our struggles.

Holloway tells the story of a peasant who farts as a sign of defiance every time he saw his landlord. This 'scream', Holloway tells us is the seed that may lead to revolution. This may be so; but if the peasant continues to merely fart every time he sees his landlord, then this gesture becomes merely a compensation for his continued subjection. If the peasant remains content not go beyond farting, then this fart becomes merely a sign of resentful acquiescence.

Holloway argues that the Italian autonomists' viewpoint was that of the factory militant who sought to develop the autonomous power of the working class at the point of production. Holloway's position can all too easily be seen as that of the humble professor who is no longer confident enough to tell oppressed masses what to do but instead uncritically cheers from the side lines, comforting himself with the notion that 'I scream therefore I am working class!'


As Holloway points out, Change the World Without Taking Power is a product of the uncertainty following the fall of the USSR and the general disillusionment with the old politics of the left that throughout the twentieth century had concentrated on the conquest of state power. To be fair to Holloway, unlike many in his position he has not succumbed to the cynicism of Post-Modernism, nor has he sold his soul to Blairism. Instead Holloway has made a brave attempt to develop a new politics for the twenty-first century. In doing so he readily admits that he does not have all the answers. He even admits that he might have thrown the baby out with the bath water - and we think he may well have done so. Nevertheless, despite our reservations, Change the World Without Taking Power is an interesting book and one that should be widely read.


[1] See our review of 'The State Derivation Debate', Aufheben 2 (Summer 1993).

[2] In our review article of' Cleaver's Reading 'Capital' Politically and of Steve Wright's Storming Heaven (see 'From Operaismo to "Autonomist Marxism"' in this issue) we have sought to make a clear distinction between the three terms operaismo, autonomia and 'autonomist Marxism'. Operaismo refers to the theories developed in the 1960s and early 1970s within the Italian movement of that name which focused on the work-place and the mass worker. Autonomia refers to the theories developed in the late 1970s that saw the mass worker being replaced by the 'socialized worker' as the revolutionary subject. 'Autonomist Marxism' is the term for that school of Marxism based largely in the USA that has sought to defend and propagate the theories of Italian autonomism since the end of the 1980s. Holloway does not make such distinctions and uses the term autonomism to apply to all. We shall follow Holloway's usage in this review.

[3] Holloway accepts that such a positive conception of class does not necessarily follow from the Italian autonomist theory. However, this positivistic conception of class was most fully developed by Toni Negri; and, as Holloway points out, is still evident in his most recent writings including Empire in which the 'multitude' stands externally opposed to the 'empire'. See 'From Operaismo to "Autonomist Marxism"' in this issue.

[4] This is a point that is made in our critique of the autonomist analysis of the oil crisis and the Middle East put forward by Midnight Notes in their book Midnight Oil. See 'Review: Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-92' Aufheben 3 (Summer 1994) and 'Escape from the Law of Value?', Aufheben 5 (Autumn 1996).

[5] For our criticisms of the tendency of autonomia to make all the working class the same in their theory of the socialised worker see 'From Operaismo to "Autonomist Marxism"' in this issue.

Picket and Pot Banger Together - Class recomposition in Argentina?

Aufheben analyse the Argentinian uprising of 2001 and its roots in neoliberal economic policies and the history of the region.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

Reports on the Argentine movements over the last 12 months have been scattered between the issue of the national debt and the IMF, the struggles of the middle classes, the 'piqueteros' unemployed movement, and the generalised 'rejection of politics'. How do all these aspects fit together - do the various struggles ion Argentina constitute a proletarian attack against capital? Is the 'rejection of 'politics' a radical advance for the movement, or an expression of sectional fragmentation? We suggest that the 'neo-liberal' attack has resulted in a massification of the class in which the middle classes are being absorbed into the proletariat. This is happening in specific conditions of a country on the periphery of capital, where an immediately social mobilization around the neighbourhood is possible. We examine the history of Argentina to explain the origin of the current situation.

A nation implodes...
Following years of 'neo-liberal' restructuring in Argentina, and with thousands of private and state workers not having been paid in the last half of 2001, by the end of that year the social situation was deteriorating fast. The collapse of a heavily indebted economy threatened ever wider social sectors with the loss of their livelihoods. This situation was not going uncontested, however. There were twelve general strikes in 2001 alone. On just one day in August of that year, a huge piquetero 1 action involved over 100,000 people and blocked 300 roads.

On the 17th of December the government of De La Rua announced further cuts. The state budget was to take a further 20% reduction. This meant more cuts in services, wages and pensions. Unemployment already stood at 20% and the corralito (banking restrictions) had been put in place on December 3rd to prevent people withdrawing their savings. A generalized insurrection gripped the country. And on the 19th, huge sections of Argentine society mobilised not only against De La Rua but against the whole Argentine political class. On the 15th, organised lootings spread through Argentina's provincial cities; on the 16th and 17th they hit Buenos Aires, where thousands attacked supermarkets, warehouses and shops, as well as official buildings. In Quilmes, in greater Buenos Aires, 2000 people besieged a supermarket and refused to leave until they were given 3000 twenty-kilo bags of food. The movement spread spontaneously. Many banks in the heart of Buenos Aires were burned on the 19th.

De La Rua denounced this 'anarchy' and instituted a state of emergency. This threat of state repression, a very tangible threat to Argentines with their memories of the terror of the dictatorship, instead of demobilising people became the spark for an even wider mobilisation. More than a million people filled the centre of Buenos Aires and headed for the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace in the Plaza de Mayo. There were also hundreds of thousands on the streets of most of the other cities: Cordoba, La Plata, Rosario. The impoverished middle classes came out into the streets, in a mass cacerolazo, a symbolic protest involving the beating of pots and pans. At exactly the moment when the state attempted to intimidate and create division, with a call to order against the looters, people filled the streets chanting "the state of emergency - they can stick it up their arse." This crucial moment became effectively an endorsement of the insurgency of the previous days. More than 30 people died on the 18th and 19th, shot by shopkeepers and cops at lootings around the country, and in the streets around the Plaza De Mayo in Buenos Aires during riots; but the 'party of order' was decisively pushed back. The massive defiance of the state of emergency appeared to lay to rest the ghost of fear and intimidation from the years of the dictatorship; the phrase "No te metes" ("Don't get involved") was no longer heard.

All the main protagonists of this story were involved on the 19th. There were the unemployed, who participated in both the piquetes and the lootings all over the country. The 'middle classes' were also there; in the following few days, they would set up popular assemblies in their neighbourhoods. Prefiguring this, people met and discussed on street corners, where many stayed until late into the night, lighting fires in the middle of the roads at the intersections of wide avenues - reminiscent of piquetero tactics of the last few years. The workers from the Brukman factory, occupied on the 18th, were there too.

As the 19th turned into the 20th, the cacerolazo protest escalated into open confrontation with the state and there was massive street-fighting in the centre of Buenos Aires.2 At the Obelisk, in the centre of Buenos Aires, hundreds engaged in running street-battles with police - including the motoqueros, the motorbike couriers, who gave aid to the fighters from the back of their bikes, charging the police, rescuing those overcome by tear-gas and bringing loads of stones for others fighting. People celebrated, as De la Rua fled the Casa Rosada by helicopter, with music, champagne and bonbons looted from nearby shops. The banks burned in the centre of Buenos Aires on the 19th and 20th, an expression of anger at the corralito; the bank freezes affected not only the middle classes but also many workers with small savings and those who depended on cash by working in the black economy. The demos, riots and lootings took place throughout Buenos Aires province and in more than 12 cities around the country. Barricades were erected in some areas of the capital and massive riots ensued. Many joined the weekly vigil of the mothers of the disappeared in the Plaza de Mayo; some tried to storm the Casa Rosada; the Ministry of the Economy was set alight; and people besieged the home of the hated minister of finance, Cavallo. In Cordoba, the second city, site of Argentina's declining car industry, the breakdown of negotiations over the payment of wages between municipal workers and the council led to an occupation of the council offices, where a popular assembly was held. Thrown out by the police, they tried to burn the building down and build barricades in the street, helped by workers from various factories that had just gone on strike. As in Buenos Aires, lootings occurred involving different sectors of workers and the unemployed. A new slogan against the political class resounded in the streets all over the country, one taken up and much-debated ever since: "Que se vayan todos" (Out with them all). 3

The new mood appeared to be summed up in a statement by one of the piqueteros involved in the MTD Solano (Movement of Unemployed Workers): "We heard rumours of deaths [from repression] but we knew we were participating in something historical and you could feel the solidarity there. We weren't piqueteros or middle class; we all felt the sensation of being 'one'". But this provokes the question: What was the nature of this feeling of 'being one'? A problematic cross-class solidarity in which the proletariat were in danger of losing sight of their class needs by joining with other classes affected by the Argentine crisis? The present article seeks to answer this fundamental question of the composition - or re-composition - of the movements which have been threatening the social order in Argentina over the last 12 months.

In order to gain an understanding of the nature of the current struggles, we need first to place them in their historical context, beginning with Argentina's 'golden era', when the economy revolved around the agro-export business. The rise of Peronism heralded a new 'settlement' with the working class which helps explain some of the peculiarities of the present-day struggles. In this context, we trace the origins and outline the trajectories of the different sections making up today's movement: the unemployed and piqueteros, the situation in the factories, and the impoverished middle classes and the neighbourhood assemblies. While there appears to be a generalized 'rejection of politics', there remains the question of how all these aspects fit together - do the various struggles in Argentina constitute a proletarian attack against capital? Is the 'rejection of politics' a radical advance for the movement, or an expression of sectional fragmentation? We suggest that the 'neo-liberal' attack has resulted in a massification of the class in which the middle classes are being absorbed into the proletariat. This is happening in specific conditions of a country on the periphery of capital, where an immediately social mobilization around the neighbourhood is possible.

1. The contradictions of the 'golden era' of the agro-export business 4
As thousands of Argentines loot stores for food and goods while grain and meat is shipped away to the western markets, the 'iron' laws of economy are exposed as reified expressions of the class war. Indeed, the whole history of modern Argentina, of its changes in economic strategies and its various crises, is the history of the Argentine bourgeoisie's battle to reimpose, again and again, capital's control on a fierce, riotous proletariat.

In 1914, Argentina's economy was based on agricultural exports, mainly of grain and beef. The Argentine bourgeoisie was composed of landowners, who had control of large latifundias, and export businessmen, and confronted a huge number of discontented agricultural workers whose pay and conditions were appalling but whose dispersion in a large backward countryside was a great obstacle in their attempts to organize. In the rural region of Patagonia the meat-processing, service and transport workers of the small towns of Rio Gallegos and Puerto Deseado were already developing organizations based on small federations. Patagonia's largest union organization, the Sociedad Obrera de Rio Gallegos, was centred in the small capital Rio Gallegos and had been active since 1911.

While Argentina's rural hinterland was left underdeveloped, the agro-business trade had necessitated the development of some subsidiary industries and services, such as meat-processing plants, cargo transport, railways, docks, triggering the expansion of a few coastal cities and a growing urban proletariat. The urban workers could organize more easily and by 1914 they were already a combative force and a challenge to the status quo.

The urbanization of the coast, functional to the export-oriented economy, involved the growth of an urban middle class and petit bourgeoisie composed of shop-keepers, petty businessmen, professionals, and civil servants. The development of the urban middle classes and the threat of the proletariat 5 gradually started undermining the power of the agrarian oligarchy. By 1911, the conservative government had to concede to the struggles of the middle classes and the petit bourgeoisie and extended the electoral franchize to include middle classes and to the bulk of the working class with the law Saenz Pe-a (1912). In 1916, Hipolito Yrigoyen, candidate for the Radical Party, which represented the middle classes, was elected President of Argentina. Yrigoyen's populist government would combine repression with attempts to recuperate urban and rural working class struggles.

The dominant agrarian and mercantile bourgeoisie had little interest in promoting industrial production or the development of the countryside. However, the viability of Argentina's agrarian export economy depended on the ability of the Argentine exporters to realize profits by selling on the world market. The vulnerability of this economy, and of the class settlement which it expressed, was exposed by the First World War. Causing disruption to international trade, the war stirred up in Argentina a wave of strikes and insurrections which seriously threatened the bourgeois order. This was the beginning of the end of the era of an economy which was golden only to the extent of the Argentine agrarian oligarchy's pockets. As we will see later, the world crisis of 1929 was to give it the final blow.

Already before the First World War, Argentina's extensive but backward agriculture had begun to reach the limits of cultivable lands, and a change in economic strategy would sooner or later appear necessary to the bourgeoisie. However, with the First World War, the demand for agricultural export goods from the belligerent countries temporarily increased, pushing prices up and rewarding the agro-businessmen with huge profits. But, at the same time, the war caused a shortage in the import of raw material and capital goods, and led to a crisis in many industrial sectors. As unemployment rose and pay and working conditions worsened, waves of strikes affected transport and urban service sectors, as well as the mostly British or foreign, meat-processing plants, in the towns along the coast.

Meanwhile, there was also a change in the representation of the working class. By 1914 the largest union federation in Argentina was the Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA), which in its fifth congress in 1905 had adopted an anarcho-communist position. In September 1914 the syndicalist Confederacion Obrera Regional Argentina (CORA) dissolved themselves to join FORA. The syndicalists opposed FORA's anarcho-communist position and their entry to the federation was conditioned by a promise from the anarchist unions to discuss the problem of common objectives and principles in the forthcoming ninth congress of FORA. During this congress, in 1915, FORA's revolutionary positions were discarded in favour of a position of neutrality towards different political currents within the labour movement - this included the Socialist Party and other parliamentary and moderate currents, but, as we will see, it also gave freedom to the union leaders of FORA to accept any compromise with whoever was in power. 6 Also the revolutionary positions which had up until then characterized the syndicalists were toned down. In fact, while up until then revolutionary syndicalism had encouraged the use of the general strike as a tool to overthrow capitalism, the general strike was now accepted 'only when it is exercized with intelligence and energy to repulse the aggression of capitalism and the State'. 7 While moderation took root in the mainstream FORA, the now minority unions who were still faithful to revolutionary principles left FORA to create the 'FORA of the fifth congress' (FORA V). The syndicalist FORA was then known as the 'FORA of the ninth congress' (FORA IX).

With his election in 1916, the Radical President Yrigoyen sought a conciliatory approach with the working class and started a 'special relationship' with the unions of FORA IX. The Radical government took steps towards introducing labour reforms and intervened in industrial disputes through a representative of the President (the governor), sometimes on the side of the workers. On the other hand, Yrigoyen's government severely repressed strikes when no political gain or conciliatory agreements could be obtained or when important interests of capital were at stake.

FORA IX found it difficult to bridle the proletariat into submission and compromise. After 1918 news of the Russian Revolution added to the material conditions of crisis by encouraging the Argentine proletariat towards a uncompromising confrontation with the system. It was the revolutionary FORA V which took the lead of the new offensive. In January 1919 a major insurrection, which would be known as the Tragic Week, exploded in Buenos Aires, provoked by the death of workers during armed confrontations between the police and strikers in the occupied metallurgical plant Pedro Vasena & Hijos. FORA V called for a general strike and the on the 9th of January a march of 200,000 people led by about a hundred armed workers turned to a victorious battle with the police, while looters raided the city. FORA IX was obliged to join FORA V in calling a general strike for the 10th, whilst at the same time opening negotiations with the government. The struggle continued for the next four days and strikes paralysed the city, while FORA IX, who were able to negotiate and obtain petty concessions limited to the dispute within Vasena, tried to discourage the workers from carrying on and appealed for a return to work - but in vain. The insurrection was not really about one isolated dispute in an isolated factory, but about the general discontent shared by everyone, and the workers felt strong enough to prosecute the strikes while FORA V was pushing for the extension of the strikes to the revolution. Only the intervention of the army was able to reimpose social peace.

After the end of the First World War, a fall of international wool and meat prices affected the rural region of Patagonia. 8 Unemployment and the general worsening of the conditions of rural workers caused by the crisis encouraged the Sociedad Obrera de Rio Gallegos, affiliated to FORA IX, to call for a regional strike of ports and hotels in July 1920. The repressive response of the State triggered an escalation of the struggle, which extended among the rural workers in the hinterland. Armed nuclei composed of rural workers raided the countryside, spreading terror among the landowners and the bosses, recruiting, and propagating the struggle from hacienda to hacienda. Presidential appeals for reconciliation to the 'genuine-and-peaceful' workers were answered with armed defiance both in the coastal towns and in the countryside, and scabs sent from Buenos Aires were shot at by the workers of Rio Gallegos. Patagonia did not want a compromise, they wanted to go further: "This is not a working-class movement" said the governor Correo Falcon "but something much worse". The strike ceased first in the capital Rio Gallegos and later in the countryside in front of a total lack of support from the central FORA IX and of the promises of generous concessions by the new governor, Varela, who presented himself as a defender of workers' rights and was able to obtain an agreement with the rural workers. The promises were not met; but another attempt to organize strikes and armed struggles in 1921 was murderously repressed by the governor Varela. 9 The upsurge was over, to the relief not only of the Argentine bourgeoisie but also of the English and the German bourgeoisie, who had appealed to the Argentine chancery to protect their property in Patagonia.

Between 1919 and 1929 Argentina's economy recovered, real wages rose, unemployment decreased. This gave the government the economic basis for a renewed compromise with the working class. New laws to regulate the labour market were introduced (e.g. a legislation which made payment in cash obligatory came in 1925, the restriction of the working day to 8 hours, except for rural and domestic workers, came in 1929). The working class were demobilized and most of the unions merged to form the reformist confederation Central General de Trabajadores (CGT, 1930). Only FORA V and a few communist unions stayed out.

2. Import-substitution production and Peronism 10
The fall of world trade that followed the end of the First World War prompted some within the Argentine bourgeoisie to disengage with the world markets and look towards industrialization based on import substitution. 11 However, a concerted attempt at national industrialization required a break with the established class settlement. The emerging industrial bourgeoisie, in whose interests it was to was to really push for this new economic policy, was in fact weak and squeezed between the agro-trade oligarchy on the one hand, entrenched in their conservative free-trade oriented interests, and a militant and restless working class on the other. It was only with the economic crisis that followed Wall Street crash in 1929, which saw a collapse in world trade, that became possible to break the existing class settlement and pursue a policy of import substitution led industrialization. Even then the Argentine industrial bourgeoisie was too weak and the army had to step in.

The army overthrew the Radical government in 1930, installing a military presidency. In order to regulate overproduction caused by the international crisis, the military government placed agricultural trade under State control, against the entrenched interests of the agrarian and mercantile bourgeoisie. The monopoly of the agro-trade profits allowed the State to channel capitals into the development of a modern army, and a State apparatus which favoured industrial development; and (above all later with Peron) to channel profits into productive and industrial development.

At the same time the military government acted against the working class so as to increase the profitability of industrial capital. As soon as it took power, the new governments started repression of both militant and conciliatory unions. Despite the fact that the moderate CGT did not even condemn the military coup, declaring themselves 'politically neutral', the new government took repressive steps against the unions. The industrial bourgeoisie regained the ground previously lost to the working class. The labour laws conceded after the insurrection of 1919 were repealed; regulations were neglected by the bosses with the approval of state authorities and during the next ten years the average wage decreased. In the same period industrial production expanded and overtook agricultural production. This was accompanied by a recomposition of the Argentine working class: made redundant by the economic restructuring, masses of rural workers moved to the urban areas and provided the labour force for the new industries.

However, unable to find a stable form to mediate class conflict and to integrate the working class with some form of corporative compromise, the military government found itself caught between the interests of the old ruling oligarchy and rising popular discontent, and they were obliged to progressively concede power to bourgeois politicians.

In June 1943, during the Second World War, in the face of a bourgeoisie split by conflicting interests, the army, led by Generals Rawson and Rami­rez, took power a second time in order to ensure Argentina maintained a neutral position in the Second World War. There was an ideological motive in the coup, since the right-wing army was inclined to maintain a friendly relationship with the fascist side and many among them, Peron included, openly expressed their admiration of Mussolini. In fact the military was looking at fascism and corporatism as an answer to growing working class militancy. In 1942 the number of working days lost to strikes in Argentina was three times higher than in the past two years.

Indeed, in 1943, the new Labour and Social Security Secretary, Juan Domingo Peron, started a coherent economic and political policy based on the introduction of protective tariffs to support national accumulation and industrial development and on a corporatist compromise with the industrial working class. By 1944 he had become Vice President of Argentina. His popularity with the working class became so high that when the army tried to remove him from his post and send him into internal exile in 1945, a wave of grass-root struggles spread through the country obtained his return. In 1946, he was elected President with the support of the urban working class. 12 In 1946 Peron initiated an industrialization plan, based on the income from the State monopoly of the agro-export, which would be reinvested in new industries through State-owned banks.

The introduction of protectionism and the State control of industrial development provided the material means to integrate the working class through economic concessions. And at the same time the real improvement in working class conditions, particularly higher wages, was functional to the expansion of Argentina's internal market, and to the development of the import substitution economy. Indeed, the ideology of Peronism, based on the idea of a State 'above all particular class interests', was an ideology that the Radical government of Yrigoyen (and General Uriburu, with his corporatist commitment) had tried to propose in vain because it was challenged both by the old oligarchy and the working class, and as a result was contradicted by its actual economic policies. Only with the Peronist compromise this nationalistic 'third way' was grounded in the actual role taken by the State in the control of the economy. And by allowing for a real change in the conditions of the working class it was able to secure the material basis for its credibility.

The gains of the working class were to some extent comparable to those of workers in European social-democratic countries. A bureaucratic union apparatus would represent the workers and guarantee their 'interests' within a system of collective bargaining with the state as interlocutor (the unions received the status of persona juridica in 1945).The centralization of wage negotiations became a feature of most trades (already in 1945 there were 142 collective bargains signed at the National Department of Labour for Buenos Aires and 279 for the rest of the country). Legislation which benefited the workers was passed, including a steady rise of wages, the introduction of an extra month bonus at Christmas (the Aguinaldo, suspended only in August 2001), the implementation of health and safety regulations, free health care and new guarantees for rural workers.

These 'generous' concessions were offered in exchange for the workers' submission to the State and the social order. For Peron the good worker had to go 'de casa al trabajo y del trabajo a la casa': from home to work and from work to home - and give up class struggle. Peron's nationalistic ideology condemned communism and capitalism as 'foreign' and spurious ideologies, in the name of the 'third way' of justice and welfare provided by the Argentine State. The Peronist party was called 'Justicialist'. The other side of this 'third way' was of course military repression, which was turned against those unions and militants who opposed the regime (the socialist splinter of the unions' federation CGT was suspended).

Instead, the more moderate unions were encouraged and integrated into the State structure. The union's complicity with the corporatist state and their moderation was guaranteed in concrete by a redefinition of their role within the system of wealth distribution. The unions were in fact put in charge of benefit provision and they would run the health service and even holiday resorts for the workers. This control on resources was an element of real power and control on the individual workers based on relations of patronage.

However, the union representation found itself in a contradiction. In order to maintain their privileges which were the token for their submission to the State apparatus, the unions had to strive not to lose their control of the workers' movement; but on the other hand they had also to strive to maintain their legitimacy in face of the workers, whose militancy was growing. Indeed, contradictorily, in their efforts at recuperating the proletariat through representation, Peronism encouraged the workers to meet and participate in union activities, and to organize. Unionization was made obligatory for the state sector, and new unions promoted. The same fact that unionization was encouraged meant that while between 1940 and 1944 there were 332 strikes with a loss of one million working days, between 1945 and 1949 392 strikes soared to a record of nine million working days. In fact, while the main union federation CGT had become a bureaucratized mechanism at the service of the government, struggles proliferated around the shop stewards and the official representatives in the factories (comisiones internas), escaping the control of the leaders.

With its nationalistic and militaristic ideology, and with its attempt to suppress class conflict through a state-imposed corporatism, Peronism appears strikingly similar to European fascism. However, although Peron openly sought to emulate Mussolini, and although many commentators have seen Peronism as merely a form of fascism, there were vital differences. First, Peronism did not arise out of a mass movement rooted in the despair following a decisive working class defeat. Second, in his efforts to modernize Argentina through a policy of rapid industrialization, Peron was unable to rely on the backing of a relatively strong industrial bourgeoisie in order to overcome entrenched conservative agrarian interests. Instead, as we have seen, Peron came to power with the support of the working class. Far from smashing already demoralized working class organizations, Peron was obliged to establish a modus vivendi with such organizations.

The fact that Peron was obliged to establish an alliance with the working class has led some commentators to suggest that Peronism was essentially a form of social democracy, or at least a cross between social democracy and fascism. However, to the extent that social democracy becomes the representation of the working class within the state and capital, it represents the working class as individual commodity-owner/citizens. As such, social democracy tends to lead to the demobilization of the working class and the atrophy of its self-organization.

In contrast, although Peron could maintain an iron grip at the national level, at the grass-roots level both formal and informal working class organizations and networks were not only preserved but left with a large degree of autonomy. At a national level, Peron tied the working class as a whole to Peronism through substantial material concessions, while at a local level the various local grass-roots organizations were tied to the state through a system of patronage.

This co-option and preservation of the pre-existing forms of working class self-organization was further consolidated with Peron's move towards democratization. In doing so, Peron established a system of clientelist relationships which guaranteed political and financial autonomy to the electoral base. Peronist local organizations were left totally or almost totally free from any political control on their activities. They would support their politicians at electoral times, receiving in exchange financial help and jobs. This encouraged identification with, and support for, Peronism, since such support actually meant welfare, state-guaranteed rights against the employers, and also space for militant actions and self-organization.

It is worth noticing that the Peronist structure of power, by giving a limited autonomy to its electoral base, encouraged and reproduced a traditional practice of self-help and solidarity at neighbourhood level. This tradition was rooted in the life of the pre-1920s conventillos, large buildings where working class families used to, and indeed some still do live (they have the structure of convents, with shared kitchens, and central patios). Workers' cultural associations, popular libraries and anarchist schools proliferated around the conventillos' patios, as well as instances of organized neighbourhood-based struggles. When, by the end of the 1920s, the workers were rehoused in individual houses in the suburbs of the cities, they tried to overcome their isolation by organizing themselves in the neighbourhood (barrio) through social and sport clubs and cultural associations - however, as Ronaldo Munck stresses, the new social heterogeneity in the suburbs would 'tend to dilute the harsh proletarian experience of the pre-1930 period. 13 This base activity was encouraged by Peronism, when welfare was provided by the union structures through a network of associations (such as recreational groups, co-ops, etc.); this situation probably reflected the weakness of a bourgeoisie which could not afford to provide the working class with a modern welfare system. The 'mafia'-like structure of Argentine power was one side of the coin of this weakness; the failure of the Peronist 'welfare system' to fragment and individualize the working class (as was achieved instead by the western welfare state) was the other side of this same coin.

This had allowed the Argentine working class to experience communal self-organization as a central part of its reproduction and survival, balancing the obvious pressure of capitalism towards bourgeois individualism. 14 This tradition of solidarity in the neighbourhood and at street level, which Argentine capitalism could not afford to dismantle, was an important element in Argentina's historical insurrections. One tradition which has reoccurred from pre-Peronist times up until today is the organization of ollas populares, community kitchens during episodes of strikes. But above all this experience is important for its revolutionary potential - the fact that struggles which start from certain categories of workers can actually involve other proletarians and expand to whole towns.

3. The end of the import-substitution economy 15
By the end of the 1940s, import substitution-led industrialization was reaching its limits. Concessions for the working class and the its institutionalized strength restricted the rate of exploitation and hinder profits. The State apparatus necessary to Peronist patronage, with its army of white collar workers employed in the unions, hospitals, schools, etc., was a growing burden on the realization of surplus value at national level. Argentina's archaic agricultural trade, whose profits still constituted the main source of finance for the State, and which were challenged by competition from more advanced western countries, began to impose increasingly pressing limits on the Peronist system. As a consequence, inflation began to rise and real wages declined. A mounting petty bourgeois, middle-class and bourgeois opposition to Peronism emerged, politically articulated by the Catholic Church and by increasingly nervous associations of industry bosses.

It was increasingly apparent that Peronist power could survive only by changing the terms of its 'compromise': In order to deal with the increasing State deficit, Peron had to seek foreign investments, and in order to contain inflation had to discipline the working class. Already by 1948, the government responded to strikes with repression more frequently than by making concessions. In 1953 Peron had to abandon his commitment to his flagship policy of protectionism: causing outrage in public opinion, he allowed the USA to invest in a new a steel plant, and started negotiations with the California-based Standard Oil Company for the exploitation of oil sources in Patagonia. All this weakened both the ideological and the material basis of the Peronist class compromise.

In fact a change at international level in the post-war settlement presented Argentina with the opportunity to shift towards export-led industrialization. The Bretton Woods agreement, together with multilateral agreements promoting free trade, established the dollar as world currency and stimulated a sustained recovery in world trade. Argentina's bourgeoisie could now in principle take advantage of an opening up of foreign markets, particularly in the USA and in Europe, to sell the products it could now manufacture. The governments which succeeded Peron's would make increasing efforts towards liberalization. But there was a fundamental problem confronting the attempts to pursue export-led growth. The industry developed under the Peronist compromise was backward and inefficient by world standards. Argentine industry needed massive investment to be able to compete on the world market, and this could only come from abroad. But Western Banks were not prepared to make large the large scale and long term investments in Argentina necessary to modernize its plant and machinery while the post-war boom was generating high profits in the Western countries.

However, the need to attract foreign investment and to discipline the working class into better standards of efficiency, faster work pace, higher intensity of work, meant that the bourgeoisie had to get rid of Peron and attack the privileges of a 'spoiled' working class. In September 1955 a military coup replaced Peron, populistically playing also on the disappointment of the public opinion about the deals with Standard Oil. The aim of the new military government was first of all to redefine the balance of power between employers and workers, since, according to the employers' federation of the metallurgical industry, workplaces were 'like an army in which the troops give the orders and not the generals'. 16 In the years following the coup, anti-labour laws were passed; the base structure of the Peronist union, the comisiones internas, were subjected to State intervention or forced into clandestinity. In 1958 the Radical government led by Frondizi implemented a series of privatizations and rationalizations, to patch up the State finances and encourage foreign investment. After 1958 production was restructured sometimes with the introduction of new technology; but often the effort of increasing productivity just meant imposing a faster work pace and discipline on the workers.

There was a strong grass-root workers' response to the new economic measures. Between 1955 and 1959 about four million working days were lost every year to strikes. In 1959 the days lost to strikes soared to ten million. The workers did not hesitate to consider occupations, sabotages and the use of explosives. Despite this resistance, the bourgeoisie recovered ground. Wage concessions were related to productivity; piece-work was introduced; speed-ups were imposed. It was a period of defeat for the class, paradoxically amidst a level of struggles which we may only envy today in the UK.

At the end of the 50s, however, a peak in militant factory occupations and strikes encouraged the CGT to get involved, both to control this militancy and to use it for achieving more political and negotiation power. With Augusto Vandor as leader, the CGT made every effort to minimize grass-root influence on the assemblies with the use of intimidation by stewards and impose a total control of the struggles from the top. The workers' energies were channelled into 'controlled struggles', controlled in every detail by the union leaders, which were aimed to gain concessions for the union's power and for the workers, but also to weaken the Radical government and pave the way for a return of Peron. In particular, in 1964 a 'controlled' series of factory occupations involved eleven thousand factories and four million workers. 17

Amidst growing social tension, a students' struggle swept the country in 1966. A new military regime took power the same year and smashed the movement, but it could not stop the process of politicization in universities which had started with it. The student's radicalization and their involvement with the workers' struggles would in fact be an important element in the later insurrectional events of 1969.

The new military government, led by General Ongani­a, initially presented itself as ideologically corporatist and its coup was welcomed by most of the unions. But in 1967 the government's economic policies shifted towards liberalization and rationalization, adopting anti-inflationary policies which led to the collapse of uncompetitive businesses, reducing barriers for the entry of foreign capitals, and cutting the powers and the resources of the CGT. However, a general strike called by the CGT for March 1967 met a cold response from many unions. In 1968 the CGT regrouped in a moderate CGT Azopardo and a more militant, and only initially large, CGTA ('of the Argentines'), created by base militants, and involving stalinists, left-wing Peronists, left-wing Catholics, and groups of the far left.

From 1968 however the workers rose up again in a crescendo of strikes which culminated with major insurrectional events in 1969, the Cordobazo. Tension in the industrial town of Cordoba built up mainly around the issues of the abolition of the five-day working week and the establishment of quitas zonales, regions where the bosses were allowed pay less than the wage nationally agreed, which included the region of Cordoba. The metal mechanical workers, the bus drivers and the car mechanics, and their respective unions UOM, UTA and SMATA were mainly at the centre of these struggles. The immediate trigger for the insurrection was a series of protests after murderous police repression of student struggles. The 29th May in Cordoba a march organized by SMATA, Luz y Fuerza (the local power workers union), UOM and UTA, joined by white collar workers and by students, soon transformed itself into a battle on the barricades. The whole town was on the streets and the centre was seized for many hours. But the day after the army counterattacked, numerous arrests were made, and militants were killed. In September a new insurrection exploded in the town of Rosario, in the Cordoba region; the town was seized and defended on the barricades against the police. Police headquarters, banks, shops and hotels of the city centre were raided.

The insurrections were heavily repressed, but the State had to restore collective bargaining with the unions and moderate their new economic policies. The participation of white-collar workers in the Cordobazo was the first major instance of participation of this sectors on the barricades. With the cuts on the state services, the participation of dissatisfied white-collar workers in the proletariat struggle was to become increasingly frequent: the piquetero movement of 1995 emerged precisely from a combative struggle of teachers. The Cordobazo is also another example, rooted in the Argentine tradition, of a struggle which does not stop at the factory gate but spreads throughout the town - a tradition which has become very important in today's movement.

During the Peronist period, the unions' 'corruption' had been for the workers a comfortable means of obtaining benefits within a clientelist relation while as a by-product part of the State finances were redirected to the pockets of union bureaucrats. But with the political and economic reorientation of the ruling class, the bureaucratic union 'corruption' and their collaboration with a system, which was no longer generous, became a reason for resentment on the part of the working class. That the union was part of the bourgeois system was indeed apparent in the fact that the union bureaucrats were even owners of industries and businesses. 18 The movement of clasismo which started in 1970 with the rank-and-file struggles in the Fiat factory in Cordoba expressed this resentment. The unions of SITRAC and SIMAC were seized by the workers, who imposed rank-and-file leaders (mainly Maoist or independent Peronists), against the resistance of the union bureaucrats and of the State. A new insurrection in Cordoba, called the Viborazo, exploded in 1971 precisely around the new rank-and-file movements and in particular around a struggle in the FIAT car factory.

This hot climate, which also included raids by Peronist and Trotskyist terrorist groups ('guerrillas'), could not be defeated with the army or with the help of right-wing paramilitary groups. The return of Peron, who could still be seen by many as 'above the parties', was then accepted by the bourgeoisie: the Peronist Campora was elected in March 1973, and Peron was president later the same year. During this period strikes broke out everywhere in the country, with occupations, clashes with the police, raids on bosses' homes. 'Guerrilla' actions also multiplied.

While allowing a rise of wages, and making an attempt to control import prices, Peron carried on a policy in the three years of his power which was systematically and mercilessly repressive; he criticized Campora for his 'excessive concessions' to the workers. A redundancy law allowed the State to get rid of militant employees and a new 'Law of Professional Associations' allowed the trade union leaders to overthrow decisions made by the committees and increased the bureaucrat's control over the shop floor. Isabelita Peron came to power after her husband's death, and prosecuted his repressive policy. The repression had the consequence of isolating and radicalizing small vanguard groups - armed 'guerrilla' groups, in particular the Montoneros, got stronger and their kidnappings and murders of trade union bureaucrats and other members of the bourgeoisie earned general public support and sympathy. 19

4. Petrodollars and the restructuring of the working class 20
The quadrupling of the price of oil in 1973 precipitated a severe financial crisis in Argentina. The sharp rise in the price of oil triggered an inflationary spiral that soon led to hyper-inflation. At the same time the Central Bank sank deeper into the red. Yet this oil crisis not only brought the dangers of debt and hyper-inflation, it also offered the Argentine bourgeoisie new opportunities. The oil price rise of 1973 led to a huge increase in the revenues of the oil producing States. Unable to spend or invest more than a small fraction of these revenues at home, the oil producing States deposited their 'petro-dollars' in Western banks. As a result Western bankers found themselves awash with money-capital to invest. Faced with rising working class militancy and declining profits in Western Europe and the USA in the 1970s, the Western banks were prepared to channel a large part of their petro-dollar funds into the more developed parts of the periphery of the world economy, such as Latin America. As a consequence, the oil crisis gave Argentina's economy the opportunity to present itself as a profitable place for the Western banks to invest their petrodollars. Foreign investments could then ideally be used to modernize Argentina's industry and economic infrastructure so that it could compete in the world market. But such a strategy required a further concerted attack on the working class to guarantee the potential profitability of investments in Argentina.

Similar calculations were made in neighbouring Chile, when in 1973 a military coup d'état opened their doors to the 'monetarism' of the new bourgeois economists, educated in the 'Chicago school' of Milton Friedman. The prescription of the American 'monetarist' economists was to fight inflation by cutting state spending and privatize state enterprises; and abolish protectionist policies and subsidies for state industries, forcing the 'inefficient' industries to close down in the face of international competition. In 1974 the average Chilean wage fell by one half and unemployment exploded, while the welfare system, which was based on the profits of the national industries, collapsed. At the same time massive military repression hit Chilean workers and their organizations. In a word, the restructuring devised by the Chicago School was a class counterattack, whose rationale was founded in the imposition of the 'hard laws' of international competition.

In 1976, using the justification of the need to fight the 'guerrillas', the army took power in Argentina in a coup. The concept of 'guerrilla' was extended to that of 'industrial guerrilla' to launch a massive attack against workers' organizations. Indeed it was clear to the military that the main obstacle to restructuring was the proletariat. A wave of arrests and murders of militant workers and union leaders was carried out with the collaboration of paramilitary groups. A period of terror started. Militant workers would be sacked or resign for fear of arrest, torture and death, with a total of 30,000 dead or 'disappeared'. Laws were passed to attack the militancy of the rank-and-file (reduction of the number of shop stewards to half; limitations to the access to the role of shop steward in the unions, the obligation of a pre-approved agenda at union meetings).

The CGT was dissolved by the military regime, and legislation was passed to 'democratize' the unions. The right of collective bargaining was restricted to weaken the power and legitimacy of the unions. Their control on welfare and resources was withdrawn. The interest of the military to 'democratize' the unions was one with the attempt to break down their power based on patronage, and in the same time to make the workers look at the State as individuals for their benefits rather than seeking to belong to a group. But this attack on the unions had contradictory consequences. First, by losing the concrete basis for their power over people, the unions would cease to be an efficient form of social control of the proletariat. And, second, losing their privileges, which were the reason of their complicity with the government, many union leaders did not have any choice but to be drawn into the struggle and radicalized their position in an attempt at maintaining control of the situation.

However, this restructuring and liberalization of the economy had to be gradual, because of the backwardness of Argentina's industries in terms of technology and organization of work, which was the other side of the coin of the strength of a working class which had not allowed capitalism completely to follow its laws of free competition. Indeed when the State spoke about efficiency, it was the strength of the working class that was under discussion. The industries doomed by the neoliberal policies would be precisely those where the workers were stronger and had been able to gain and maintain high wages and comfortable working conditions. The restructuring meant dismantling those industrial sectors which, not uncoincidentally, were the strongholds of workers' militancy. The industries which would survive had to be competitive to face foreign competition, and the workers had to be efficient to face the pressure of a rising unemployment - this meant imposing labour discipline and speed ups on the workers, the reimposition of capital's control on labour. The introduction of wage differentials was a way of encouraging efficiency and competitiveness in the workers, and at the same time a way of trying to break class solidarity in the workplace.

As in Chile, while productivity increased, wages were halved in the first year of the coup. Unemployment rose and the gap between rich and poor increased. In the years following the coup a third of Argentina's industrial capacity was closed down in the face of foreign competition. A large part of the redundant workforce was absorbed by self-employment in the tertiary sector, but in 1981 the government was obliged to admit that forty per cent of the working population was under-employed, and in 1982 they had to introduce unemployment benefit. With the restriction of the state sector, between 1976 and 1980 half a million white collar workers employed in the state sector were also made redundant, contributing to a split in the middle class support for the state.

But Argentines were not willing to accept their fate of starvation and submission. Even in a situation of repression which obliged the leaders not to come out openly, even if repression and economic blackmail would tend to fragment them, Argentines continued their struggles. From 1976 there were hundreds of thousand of workers on strike every year and a general strike in 1979. After 1979 struggles intensified while the unions were unable to contain the grass-root activity. In 1980 the government and bosses of Argentina faced street protests and a solid general strike in Buenos Aires.

The middle class support for the military regime was severely undermined by the beginning of the 80s, with a new economic crisis provoked by the second oil prices surge in 1979 and the subsequent recession in the developed economies, which caused a widespread debt crisis (Mexico defaulted in 1982). Facing workers' resistance to their best efforts towards 'efficiency', and facing falling demand for its exports in the West, Argentina's economy confronted a growing balance of trade deficit and a mounting foreign debt to finance it. Foreign debt rocketed from about $8bn in the mid-seventies to $45bn in the mid-eighties. Unrest spread, as far as the army and even in the police, which came out on strike for wages in 1982. The government, seeking a desperate way to regain their support, invaded the British colony of the Falklands/Malvinas to inflame Argentine nationalistic hearts and obtain the support of left-wing workers' organizations (which they obtained, in the name of the leftist ideology of 'anti-imperialism'!). Unfortunately for them, they lost the war.

5. Democracy 21
For the middle classes the fact that there was a problem in Argentina was undeniable. But this was not seen to be due to capitalism, but to moral issues which were superimposed on it - like the brutality of the military regime. Furthermore the crisis was not seen as a question of class struggle, but as the problem of the corrupt 'trade union barons' who were asking too much. In fact, this perception became the bourgeoisie's pretext for its need to carry on and intensify its attack against a working class reluctant to be sacked and sacrificed at the altar of the new monetarist and neo-liberal policies - as was expressed in the Radical Alfonsin's electoral pledge to 'clip the wings of the trade union barons', and to deal with the problem of 'uncontrolled union demands'. Alfonsi­n triumphantly won the elections in 1983 with the support of the middle classes and the petit bourgeoisie but soon faced the problems of recession and inflation by prosecuting the neoliberal policies of his predecessors. In 1987 the Radical government restricted the wages to fight inflation and it introduced a second currency, the austral, a move which did not solve the inflationary crisis. Between 1983 and 1989 the wages of State employees were substantially reduced, while discontent and strikes grew. Unable to stop inflation, Alfonsin resigned in 1990.

In the same year the Peronist Menem was elected as president of Argentina in the midst of the economic crisis, with the electoral promise to stabilize the economy, devalue the peso, increase wages, and provide 'social justice' (words which appealed to the memory of the old Peronist times). On the other hand, he assured the USA of his commitment to neo-liberal policies: With this commitment, the magic word 'justice', key word of the old Peronist class compromise, was deprived of any chance of a concrete backup.

In fact there was no choice for Menem. 22 During the 1990s the International Monetary Fund intervened in Argentina in order to bail the country out of the debts that it had been piled up since the dismantling of the import-substitution economy. The enormous loans that were conceded to Argentina were conditional on the adoption of concrete steps ('Structural Adjustment Programmes') whose stated aim was to guarantee the influx of foreign capital to enable Argentina to pay back its international creditors. In order to make Argentina attractive to investors, the IMF recommended the stabilization of the Argentine currency with respect to the dollar, a rise in interest rates and continuation of the process of privatization of state companies (water, gas, airports...) - together with further cuts in State spending. Whatever the Peronist promises might have meant to the electors, Menem had to be subservient to the IMF's requirements. Under Menem the austral, which was then worth one ten-thousandth of a peso, was suppressed, and a different monetary strategy was taken. In 1991, the government passed the 'Convertibility Law', which fixed the ratio between peso and dollar to 1:1. New laws on state reform sanctioned more deregulation of the economy, the privatization of gas, water, telecommunications and the postal service. The government also removed all restrictions on the transfer of foreign capital in or out of the country.

Menem dealt with economic 'inefficiency' with a reformulation of labour laws, which allowed the extension of the working day to 12 hours with no overtime paid, the possibility for employers to postpone weekend and rest days at will, deprived women and young people of labour rights (e.g. protection against dismissal), took away the right to paid days off and to strike and gave the employers the right to define job description to allow for introduction of multiple tasks. This practice heavily restricted those collective negotiations which still survived and rendered the workers more atomized and weaker in their bargaining with the employers. Industries, above all textiles, were allowed to relocate from the coastal towns to inland, where there was a 'more tranquil labour environment'', and where labour regulations were less restrictive, with the conscious intent of making the country more attractive for investment.

Under this neo-Peronist government the exposure of Argentina to international competition was speeded up. In 1990 the government signed bilateral agreements (the Act of Buenos Aires) with Brazil that aimed to establish a new trade bloc modelled on the European Union. The following year Uruguay and Paraguay joined this agreement with the treaty of Asuncion which established the Mercado Comun del Cono Sur (MERCOSUR). Under these agreements it was decided to establish a custom union between the four countries by January 1995. All tariff barriers were to be dismantled between the four countries exposing Argentina's industry to the full competition of Brazil. 23 However, Menem's policy of a highly restrictive monetary policy to counter inflation meant that capital was unavailable for the medium and small companies to prepare themselves for liberalization. The weakest industries were closing while capitals were concentrated into large Transnational Corporations and domestic 'Great Economic Groups'.

By 1993 Menem's neo-liberal policies had begun to bear fruit. This dismantling of financial regulations, along with tough anti-labour laws, wholesale privatization and the pegging of the peso to the dollar, had transformed Argentina into an enticing prospect for foreign investors. With diminished investment opportunities due to the recession in the USA and Europe, international capital flooded into Argentina, preying on the national services, land, natural resources (oil) sold off by the government. The government of Argentina was duly praised by the IMF and the USA.

In contrast to the period under Alfonsi­n, in which the incomes of all but the very rich failed to keep pace with hyper-inflation, Menem's rule was a time of relative prosperity for the majority of the Argentine population. With the stabilization of the peso the middle class no longer had to fear inflation eating into their savings and financial deregulation opened up opportunities for profitable investment for even small or moderate savers. For the part of the working class which was still in secure jobs, wages began to rise faster than prices.

However, a large part of the wave of foreign capital encouraged by Menem's neoliberal policies did not go into productive investments. Foreign capital was more interested in buying up industries if they could quickly make profits by running them more efficiently - i.e. by sacking half the work force and making the other half work harder and more flexibly - rather than in building new factories and equipping them with up to date machinery. As a consequence, the inflow of foreign capital tended to increase, rather than decrease, unemployment at the same time as depressing wages for those at the bottom of the labour market. Between 1991 and 1999 both unemployment and underemployment more than doubled according to official figures.

As a result, the burst in economic prosperity of the early to mid 1990s was far from being evenly spread. Those amongst the Argentine bourgeoisie and middle classes who were in a position to become local agents for international capital - bankers, lawyers, consultants, accountts, managers and politicians - were able to make a fortune. At the same time those who lost their jobs through downsizing and public spending cuts found themselves swelling the ranks of the poor. Inequality rose sharply between the richest and the poorest. In 1990 the richest ten per cent of the population had an income fifteen times greater than the poorest ten per cent. By 1999 the richest ten per cent had increased their income to twenty three times that of the poorest tenth of the population.

With many of its more militant sections 'downsized', the bulk of the Argentine working class faced the prospect of steadily rising wages if they kept their heads down or the poverty of unemployment if they did not. As a consequence, militancy declined in the workplace and, as we shall see, the site of struggles shifted to the poor and the unemployed.

Yet this burst of prosperity under Menem was to be short lived. The flood of international capital into Argentina had allowed Menem to adopt more expansionary monetary and fiscal policies. Although a large part of the money pumped into the economy by higher public spending or through tax cuts would end up being spent on imports, thereby increasing the demand for dollars, this would be offset by foreign investors wanting to sell dollars for pesos in order to invest in Argentina. Such expansionary fiscal and monetary policies then gave a further boost to Argentina's economic prosperity which in turn attracted foreign investors anxious not to miss out on the profits to be made from this 'newly emerging market economy'. However, in the mid-1990s the dollar began to rise against the other main world currencies dragging the peso up with it. As a consequence, Argentina's exports lost their competitiveness leading to a strong deterioration in its balance of trade.

The rise in the dollar had caused similar problems for the 'newly emergent market economies' in Asia and in 1997-8 led to financial crises in Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Korea. After the crisis reached Russia in 1999 fears spread that next in line would be Argentina. As a result the financial flows into Argentina went sharply into reverse as foreign investors sought to get their money out of the country before the peso collapsed. The IMF stepped in with a $40bn loan to defend the peso and settle the nerves of international financiers. But in return the IMF insisted on major cuts in public spending, further privatization and more liberalization. As a consequence, Argentina went into recession. The 'virtuous circle' of high levels of foreign investment, expansionary policies leading to economic growth and more foreign investment went into reverse.

The IMF-inspired austerity measures deepened the recession, discouraging foreign investment that then led to the IMF demanding even more austerity measures before it would roll over its loans. Tension increased between the Argentine government, increasingly unable and unwilling to make further cuts to appease the IMF, and the IMF, increasingly reluctant to bail out recalcitrant governments.

In 1999 the Radical de la Rua became President, after Menem was involved in a corruption scandal. In his electoral campaign, de la Rua promised 'order and honesty' in Argentina's political affairs. However, the scandals which were going on discouraged investors and undermined Argentina's economic credibility. By November 2001, with the government unable to impose further cuts without causing public outcry and fearing that the IMF would carry out its threat of not renewing its loans, (leading to the collapse of the peso), the well-off started converting their credits from peso to dollars or other reliable currencies and withdrawing money from the banks. In order to prevent a collapse of the banking system, de la Rua imposed the corralito, restrictions on the money that could be withdrawn from the banks ($1,000/month). 24

The middle classes, who had supported policies of successive governments since the 1970s, and who had prospered quietly during the 1990s, were now hit with the full brunt of the crisis, losing not only their savings but often also their jobs. Swathes of the Argentine middle class were proletarianized almost overnight! Driven in to the street, the middle class now joined the protests of the working class (the piqueteros) that had been going on since 1997.

6. The Piqueteros
The new forms of organisation which emerged drew some of their very strength from the drastic nature of this 'neo-liberal' restructuring. Whilst the economic experts were accusing Argentina's political class of implementing the changes too slowly, the bourgeoisie in fact created a new problem for itself by having implementing them too quickly. When a large number of closures and redundancies hit almost overnight, the workers laid off en mass found themselves with common needs in a new situation where their social ties and continuing links of solidarity could be turned into new form of organisation. The mass worker becomes the mass unemployed worker. The first visible expression of these proletarians against their growing immiseration were sporadic street riots. In 1989 the province of Chubut in Patagonia exploded in a week of struggle, which ended with the resignation of the governor. The same year riots started in Rosario and Buenos Aires, where supermarkets and grocery stores were looted. From then on riots occurred throughout the country. However, the growing number and worsening situation of unemployed workers deprived of their means of survival necessitated more concerted action.

Whilst the tactic had been used from about 1993 onwards, the co-ordinated piquetero movement was born in Cutral Co and Plaza Huincul, two towns of Patagonia created around the State oil company, Yacimientos Petroli­feros Fiscales. It was privatised by Menem in 1994-5, and as a result 80% of its workers were suddenly laid off. Privatisation means more efficiency: whilst in the past it was the only major oil company in the world to report losses, due to the high wages and benefits conceded to its workers, after privatisation its profits rocketed while the living standard of the populations of the oil towns declined. By 1996 the two towns had an unemployment rate of 37.7%. The first riots exploded in June 1996 when the local government failed to reach an agreement with a Canadian corporation to set up a fertiliser plant in the area. The rioters were placated by promises made by the authorities. In March 1997, a teachers' strike against layoffs and wage reductions evolved into the first of the now famous road blockages. When the police attacked the blockade, the towns of Cutral Co and Plaza Huincul mobilised in support. The popular assembly set up to negotiate with the authorities demanded jobs, tax moratoria and investments in the oil company. They decided to demobilise when some promises were made, including the creation of 500, (badly paid) jobs. The moderation of the assembly was due to the fact that people could see no good, in the situation, in an escalation of the protest. By the same token, the intervention in the assembly by local politicians was accepted.

The piquetero tactic of blocking roads was soon being taken up in other towns. It was used in Jujuy and Salta the following year, provinces in the north of the country. In Jujuy on May 7th 1997, piqueteros blockaded the Horacio Guzman Bridge, Argentina's main link to Bolivia. Over the following four days, protests and blockades spread through the province, amongst both employed and unemployed. The movement was attacked by troops, (tear gas and rubber bullets were used), but provincial officials eventually capitulated and promised to create 12,500 jobs and increase welfare. 25 The spread of piquetero tactics and their forms of organisation moved first through the provinces, but then came closer to the capital when they reached La Matanza, in Greater Buenos Aires. This sprawling industrial suburb, with a population of two million, had been badly affected by unemployment. Here piquetero numbers grew substantially to 4,000-6,000 people. This new area of piquetero activity was also important because piquetero actions could now strangle the capital by blocking its major arteries, all within easy reach. We should also mention at this point events in Tartagal and Mosconi, both towns were occupied and held for a few days from the police in winter 1999/spring 2000, by forces including piqueteros. After the death of a demonstrator in November 2000, Tartagal was again rocked by riots - government buildings were set alight and cops taken hostage.

Typically, a piquetero highway blockage would have demands such as the withdrawal of police, the repudiation of state repression, the release of jailed comrades, unemployment benefits, food, health facilities, and demands for both 'genuine' jobs and Planes Trabajar or Work Plans - the later being effectively small unemployment subsidies (120-150 pesos a month per family, only available to those with families, and paid in 'Lecops', a national parallel currency or 'bond'). 26 The state would give out these work plans to defuse situations. Over the years, piquetero actions for Work Plans have often met with success. The subsidies are given to heads of families - say, 100 out of 800 piqueteros - rather than forming the basis of a universally-shared benefit, minuscule though it would be. Work Plans are normally intended to be taken in exchange for light public works, like municipal gardening or the upkeep of roads. They amount to a pittance, representing in their value about an eighth of the material needs of a family of four. Echanges et Mouvement 27 however, also mention 'organised looting' by piqueteros in 1999, and an escalation of violent, direct appropriation of goods in 2000, especially around the December events of 2001. Goods vehicles trapped in pickets were looted, warehouses and supermarkets attacked in a concerted way, and anger expressed in attacks on government buildings. Already in June 2000, a violent riot in General Mosconi which left 2 dead, led to a country-wide response with 300 road-blocks. We must not forget these more violent and direct expressions of piquetero organisation, some of which may be more hidden. 28

Small groups of piqueteros, organising locally in their neighbourhoods in the first instance (e.g. MTD Lanus - MTD stands for Movement of Unemployed Workers), are often affiliated to a larger 'Coordinator' group, which is in turn affiliated to one of the four major piquetero confederations. These are the CCC (Class Combative Current) group and the FTV (Federation for Land and Housing) 29 , the Bloque Piquetero, and the Coordinadora Anibal Veron, which once formed part of the Bloque Piquetero but which has increasingly distanced itself from it, insisting on its total independence from parties and unions.

The FTV has a large membership and wide support in La Matanza, in the west of Buenos Aires province. It also includes groups under the banner 'Barrios de Pie' - neighbourhoods on their feet. The CCC is the (relatively autonomous) organised piquetero union arm of the (Maoist) Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR). 30 It too has a strong base in La Matanza, and also in the northern provinces of Argentina. The Bloque Piquetero gathers together dozens of piquetero groups including the Polo Obrero, (linked to leftist parties such as the trotskyist Partido Obrero -Workers' Party), and a handful of other leftist groups. 31

The CCC and FTV-CTA group are considered the most reformist elements of the piquetero movement, with a tendency to negotiate with the government. Divisions within the movement over this led to the suspension of the third National Assembly of piqueteros planned for December 2001. A report from the Coordinadora Anibal Veron describes Anibal Veron's eight-hour picket of seven bridges and access routes to Buenos Aires city on the 21st November 2001, contrasting it with another action, by the FTV grouping, which had started a few days before. The FTV piquete had in fact allowed transport to circulate on one side of the street from 5am to 10am and again from 5pm to 9pm, so as not to cause too much disruption in La Matanza. But, as they say, "While in La Matanza the third day of roadblocks with alternative routes... passed without a response...the firmness and organization of each of our bridge-blocks meant that, in spite of public declarations by the Ministry of Work that they would not receive the unemployed because we were 'blocking roads', in a few hours the same Ministry was sat in front of us at a negotiating table, publicly ratifying the commitment we sought." 32 The statement goes on to criticise the FTV picket: "That which is generated by a road-block - born as a tool of the unemployed with which they can interrupt the movement of goods via national highways, to generate economic problems which, from a position of intransigence, forces the government to make concessions to the demonstrators - in the hands of these sectors ends up being a blocking ... of the pavement, by the side of the road, while transport freely circulates!"

Importantly, Anibal Veron, (and perhaps other piquetero groups), eschew mediation, literally refusing to meet the state on its own terrain, forcing government negotiators to come to the pickets. This helps to ensure that negotiations over limited aims take place on the piqueteros' terrain politically. 'Work Plans' and the rest are given out to families, rather than individuals, everyone can take part in the negotiations, the work plans are given out in a transparent manner, and everyone can decide on when to clear the road etc. 33 Limited aims, which from the outside look to be merely within the reformist dynamic of capital, are achieved with an understanding of the needs of proletarian struggles (such as refusal of mediation), which point to the importance of the process of struggle - social recomposition against the atomisation of capitalist social relations - as the real subversive current.

Groups like Anibal Veron criticise the CTA and CCC piquetero groupings for sending delegations to put their case to both government and employers (for example, in January 2002 CCC-organised piqueteros sent delegates to the oil company YPF-Repsol to demand 40,000 "genuine jobs", and that working hours should be shared between those working and those who had been sacked; and another delegation was received by the Casa Rosada to demand Work Plans and food and the release of political prisoners). More generally, we can also see the incursions of the official unions into the piquetero movement as just an attempt at recuperation, or as an opportunity for cross-sector solidarity, maybe partly initiated by the base, which could eventually break free from its present limits. The bureaucracy may well have a need to increase its membership and leverage on the class by recruiting piqueteros under the banner of coordination and organisation, but piqueteros have their own reasons to understand the need for this coordination, one which, in a generalised proletarian offensive, could contradict the mediation of unions.

In February 2002 Duhalde, perhaps trying to regain some of the ground lost to mediating channels, declared that there would be a universal dole of 150 Lecops per family (piqueteros have demanded 380 - both at pickets and in the assemblies). The contemptuous response to this measly benefit was clear in the two huge piquetero mobilisations of May 2002 when hundreds of roads were blocked. The governments' inability to implement a meaningful, universal level of unemployment benefit and its insistence on Work Plans has caused it endless problems. During De La Rua's presidency, the Ministry of Social Development removed the administration of Work Plans from the local authorities in favour of their distribution by NGOs, partly to curb municipal clientelism in the province of Buenos Aires, and to limit the growth of small piquetero groups in the city. The policy backfired when unemployed organisations created their own NGOs to administer the plans and to set up their own social projects using the funds from them. This was a factor in the growth of the large and increasingly powerful coordinations of groups of unemployed activists in the poorest neighbourhoods, which form one aspect of the assemblies movement that we will discuss later. 34

Today, many of the grassroots MTDs (Unemployed Workers Movements) such as the MTD Solano, part of the Coordinadora Anibal Veron, are making use of the work plans to set up projects in their own barrios, such as bakeries, metal and wood workshops, schools and vegetable plots, as well as running workshops to discuss political questions. The projects are staffed by piqueteros in receipt of work plans (direct to their bank accounts) who put the four hours a day they are supposed to do in exchange for the money to the service of their immediate communities. The northern town of General Mosconi is perhaps the most advanced in the use of work plans, with piquetero groups setting up around 300 projects.

Here we can see that the organisation of the piqueteros is not demobilised by government concessions; the state does not have strong enough mediating structures to individualise people and recuperate them in a settlement. Whilst the moneys are given to heads of families or other individuals and go to their bank accounts, they effectively end up becoming funds for further collective, autonomous organisation. With the withering of mediating structures, the piqueteros, forced to meet their everyday needs autonomously, experience an almost constant state of mobilisation - with the heightened level of communication between social subjects that this entails - in which the existence of the 'political' as a separate sphere is increasingly challenged. Ironically, the very practical nature of official piquetero demands, (jobs, food parcels), are an expression of this, and are in fact the other side of the coin to the much publicised 'rejection of politics', which seems to contradict them. Even though it forms part of the attack against the living standards of the working class - is capital shooting itself in the foot by reducing the mediating structures of its state?

One problem with 'work plans' on the other hand is that they sometimes help to further undermine the salaries and security of waged workers. One kind of Work Plan for women called Madres Cuidadores (caring mothers) is little more than a way to replace teachers on the cheap, and has been denounced as such by teachers' unions. We must also recall at this point that a neo-Peronist liberaliser like Menem was able to on the semi-autonomous, tentacular Peronist neighbourhood organisations when he was attacking state provision, channelling funds through this network to cushion the effect. De La Rua, as we have just seen, had similar policies. Other bourgeoisies across the region have also opened the doors to NGOs, charities and aided the informal, grassroots sector as part of the same process of economic liberalisation. In this maybe the executives of capital lean too much on forms of organisation which they will find difficult to control in the long run.

However, we must not fall into the trap of simply cheerleading this process as the rediscovery of grass roots autonomy and empowerment - the type of facile endorsements we criticise elsewhere in this issue. The problem is maybe precisely there - 'autonomy'. There is a tendency for this class experience to become merely the management of survival within capitalism, tied loosely into the system through aid, charity and clientelism, but understanding itself to be autonomous from capitalist social relations. Identifying capital narrowly with international capitalism, (multinationals, financial institutions, the US and EU bourgeoisie) and the comprador 35 bourgeoisie which manage their operations within the country, 'grassroots' experience may be 'naturalised', seen as a given 'thing'. Capitalism is not seen as a social relation which includes all social interaction including those within the barrio, but a rapacious, exploitative class outside the barrio. To put it another way, the relationship of exploitation within self-exploitation is externalised. If the class can externalise this relationship it will always end up preserving capitalism, in preserving its life and rebelling against the 'capitalist class'.

Another important feature of the piquetero movement is the fact that it has become a node of struggle for different sectors of the class. People in work, especially those whose jobs are threatened, have participated extensively in piquetero actions, (as we noted, the first pickets were initiated by teachers). This is a critical point to keep in mind if we want to evaluate the long-term possibilities of the Argentinean movement. Although the work plans meted out to the unemployed may sometimes lower the wages of other workers, more importantly maybe different sectors of the class are recognising their needs in each other's struggles. The bourgeoisie is finding it very difficult to decompose the class into antagonistic sectors fighting over jobs. The reserve army of labour is not performing its designated duty! As an example of this solidarity, on the 4th of April 2002 a Bloque Piquetero march, in the coastal town of La Plata, passed by the provincial government building before heading for the Family Office, to offer its support to state workers on strike there. Protesting at cuts in overtime, wages and other benefits, the workers had taken over various buildings and were in permanent assembly. When the piqueteros arrived, the gendarmeri­a were inside and the assembly had been suspended. But when the workers saw the size of the crowd which had come to support them, they shouted at the gendarmerie to leave and continued with their assembly. 36 Piqueteros have also defended the occupied factories from eviction, pushing back police attacks on numerous occasions, as have members of local assemblies and other neighbours.

Although in the early years of the movement the state and the bourgeois press could manipulate broad middle class opinion against what was painted as a dangerous, lumpen-proletarian threat, the increased immiseration of the middle classes has narrowed the gap between the two sectors. The new possibility of this situation was evident in the practical solidarity of the events of December 2001on the streets. It emerged in the days following the national cacerolazo of the 25th of January, that the police had blocked Pueyrredon Bridge, the gateway to Buenos Aires, to stop hundreds of piqueteros crossing to join the cacerolazo in the Plaza de Mayo. Furthermore, on the 28th of January 2002, a march of piqueteros from La Matanza to the Plaza de Mayo was greeted and given food by the neighbourhood assemblies who accompanied them the rest of the way. The slogan "Piquete y cacerola, la lucha es una sola" ("Picket and 'pot-banger', the struggle is the same") was heard that day and soon became popular. In February 2002, after the announcement of the abandonment of the dollar-peso parity, a piquetero march coming into Buenos Aires from the poor suburbs, was again greeted by the 'middle classes' of the centre of Buenos Aires with food and drinks. It was of course understood that the inflation that would result from the devaluation, (together with the effect on savings), would affect everyone. Whether these expressions of solidarity can be further concretised remains to be seen.

In order to discredit the piqueteros in public opinion and possibly to prepare the terrain for repression, the State has attempted to smear the movement. In March, in a calculatingly menacing tone, Duhalde stated that: "in the piqueteros movement we believe that there is a part of authentic protest which is becoming smaller....and another part financed by extremist groups. We have been told that the finances [for the piqueteros in Salta, north of Argentina] may come from the FARC of Colombia, or in other words, from narco-trafficking." 37 It is important to note that a US military base is planned for the area of Salta that Duhalde is referring to; the same place where, last year, US marines carried out joint exercises with Argentinean troops. This rhetoric also serves to separate the 'good' piqueteros from the 'bad'. The looting panic whipped up by the media following the December events (when rumours, intended to keep people off the city centre streets, flew around the poor Buenos Aires suburbs that 'looters' were attacking people's home and were on their way; fires were lit on many residential street corners and people prepared to defend their blocks against attacks which never came) was another attempt by the state to split the piqueteros from the 'middle classes'. As we have seen from the links formed in January, the attempt failed.

On the 30th May, the piqueteros blocked 1,000 highways, bridges and roads throughout Argentina, as well as railway lines. Their mass mobilisation was accompanied on the same day by strike action by airport workers that brought Ezeiza, Buenos Aires' airport, to a standstill. President Duhalde indicated his impatience with piquetero tactics, saying that road-blockings could be tolerated no longer. In light of this, it is clear that the police attack on the piquetero action of the 26th of June, in Avellaneda, that left the young piqueteros Dario Santillan and Maximiliano Kosteki dead and some 40 injured, were not simply the work of 'maverick cops'. Importantly, thousands immediately descended on the Plaza De Mayo in response to the murders, growing to some 50,000 people two days later. The alert response to state repression reduces the options for the bourgeoisie.

7. The factories
Whilst the most striking and original feature of the Argentine movement is the piqueteros, our interest in this highly organised and radical movement, based on disrupting the sphere of circulation of capital, should not blind us to the question of what the class as a whole in Argentina is doing. The aspects of radical practice in the movement which go so far as heralding new social relations should not make us forget to look at the totality. The question that has come up in recent months for observers of the events is - what are the workers in the sphere of production doing? It is a fact that the radical organisations in the factories which we have discussed above in the context of the struggles of the 1970s, were severely repressed during the years of the military regime. Almost all the authors we have come across who spoke of the situation in Argentina today complain of a lack of militancy in the workplace. The complaint is that the unions are completely tied into the system, and so are cowardly and given to manipulating workers in tokenistic strikes, demos or days of action in order to both safely channel worker discontent and to increase their bureaucratic power. The reasons given for this situation in the work place range from the somewhat vague contention that the workers are simply sold into this official union structures (this, understandably, from a member of the independent motoqueros base union), to the belief that the workers in work are just too scared to lose their jobs; whilst Mouvement Communiste sketch an effective class compromise recently patched up between Duhalde and workers in key sectors. They think that with the possible rejection of electoral politics 'the support of the CGT, the only mass organisation capable of ensuring social essential. Its inclusion into the a possible hypothesis given the independent progress of the class struggle. This is why Duhalde is trying to make the middle classes, the petit-bourgeoisie and the workers of the state sector [organised by the CTA] pay for the State's fiscal crisis. He traces out a new 'alliance of the producers' composed of the bosses of heavy industry, the workers in these industries organised by the CGT and some unemployed workers bought off by some precarious jobs within the state administration. To fly the flag of this new Peronist settlement [Duhalde] didn't hesitate to promise the general secretary of the CGT, Rudolpho Daer, to withdraw the restrictions on bank accounts as far as they concerned salaries.' 38 We cannot at this point comment much more on this, although it is an important point to keep in mind. Some of the moneys saved in the huge cuts of the past two decades could well be used to try and buy off the diminished number of workers in key strategic industries like oil production. It also gels with the political events in Argentina since December 2001 - the rejection of the Radical De La Rua, opening the way for the Peronist Duhalde to try and limit the damage of the uprising by re-opening the clientelist Peronist channels still connected to the workers, through the medium of the CGT.

We have mentioned the frequency of general strikes in recent years. Although union led and of course limited by the union's own agenda, we must not assume that the workers simply march in step behind their mediators. We note that railway workers have been on strike more than once over the last year, and in September 2002 the transport workers of Metrovia mobilised to demand a reduction of their working day to six hours, a concession they held until only a few years ago. There are also numerous, 'hidden' strikes in small factories over closures, non-payment of wages etc.

We must not forget the instances of common piquetero struggles by (mostly) state workers and the unemployed in the provinces from the mid-'90s onwards. Workers in state industries threatened with privatisation have also used road blocking tactics on numerous occasions, for example at Cutral-Co and Plaza Huincul, when the petrol company YPF was sold to Repsol. 36.8% of all road pickets between December 1993 and December 1999 were made by waged workers! The struggles of the state workers has been a major feature of the Argentine movement and is still very much a live issue. It is a question intimately involved with state clientelism. As we have already noted, with the expansion of the state, the clientelist structure Peron tried to incorporate into his Justicialist settlement was partly achieved with the explosion of 'phoney' jobs in the central state and local administration. More recently, Menem, no doubt to placate the IMF which was making business with the central state and so complaining about its spending, sacked 110,000 federal state workers (as well as 107,000 provincial state workers). He also transferred 200,000 teachers from the federal budget to local government budgets. In Buenos Aires province for example (where Duhalde was governor), the number of state workers rises substantially from 280,000 in 1991 to 400,000 in 1999, no doubt soaking up the 110,000 workers sacked from the central state in Buenos Aires. The need for the Peronist governors (and at one remove, the Peronist president) to keep their huge electoral clientele is the reason for these machinations. This reluctance to attack state jobs decisively show how deep the Peronist class settlement was rooted, even in the ultra-liberal Menem years. As we have seen however, the attack did start in the late '90s, but is still contentious - recent negotiations with the IMF have revolved around the issue of the provincial budgets, the IMF asking for 60% cuts. One would think that more massive redundancies might ensue, but the game is not so simple for the bourgeoisie, with an insurrectionary movement in near permanent mobilisation. Duhalde's administration is squeezed between the IMF and the movements - during a bout of negotiation with the IMF, one government negotiator complained that the IMF didn't understand that the administration is constrained by the fact that there are at least 30 actions a day in Argentina!

Most workers may now be keeping their heads down at work but what has emerged is that many of them are involved through the neighbourhood assemblies. They take part simply as neighbours and also report on the workplace organising that does go on. For example, at one neighbourhood assembly meeting, 39 a worker from the nearby Buquebus ferry service across the River Plate to Uruguay, described the actions that were being taken against redundancies and asked for support, to the assembly's great approval, as did another who worked at the Clari­n newspaper. Many other workers take part in the cacerolazos as well, a form of protest usually associated with the 'middle class'. It is vital to keep these things in mind. Workers not actively in struggle at work may be in touch with the needs and actions of other sectors in struggle through neighbourhood organisations. Furthermore they take part in decision making, in demos and other organisations, as neighbours in concert with other neighbours, through these organisations. The positive thing in this is that a directly social dimension of struggle is available to many workers, one which looks beyond their specific, sectoral interests in particular industries. But the limitation may be that workers separate their everyday needs (which they see as belonging to their experience as neighbours), from their role as producers of surplus value at work. The later would have to be socialised too, and this understanding turned practically against capitalist social relations, to really paralyse the system.

The other form of worker organisation to discuss are the much publicised factory occupations. We must not forget that these occupations, and the startling expressions of solidarity that they have engendered, are few, but at the same time they do come out of a material situation now nearly universal for the Argentine proletariat, hence their radical potential and their maybe inflated fame.

The most widely reported factory occupations are those of Zanon ceramics factory in the province of Neuquén, and Buenos Aires' Brukman textiles. The Zanon occupation started when the 400 workers were threatened with losing their jobs as the bosses of the factory stopped paying them and effectively started winding down the business. The workers responded by occupying the factory, setting it in motion using the materials still inside. Within two days they had produced enough ceramics to pay all their wages for a month. They sell their products at 60% of their previous price through a network of young supporters who take them from door to door. Organised through their trade union, SOECN, though with no support from the national ceramic-workers' union FOCRA (part of the CGT), the workers have refused the owners' attempts to negotiate the fate of the factory. They have totally rejected the ridiculous terms of a possible return of the bosses - wage-cuts, laying off 360 of the 400 workers. Instead they demand "the immediate opening of the plant under workers' control, with no redundancies and no wage cuts, and with full payment of all outstanding salaries. If the bosses refuse to do this we will demand the nationalisation of the factory under workers' control, as part of a scheme to provide public works to build houses, schools and hospitals, all which are much needed in our province. In this way, we can help provide an answer to the problem of unemployment by creating real jobs." 40 They propose to share the jobs amongst as many unemployed as possible. In the 2002 National Assembly of Piqueteros, a motion was passed that abandoned factories, or those that made many redundant, should be expropriated from the owners and self-managed by the workers. This has also been voted for on numerous occasions at the Interbarrial, the weekly general assembly of the neighbourhood assemblies. Zanon workers have, from the start, forged fruitful links with other groups and won great respect for their resistance and level of activism. In the first month of their occupation, October 2001, they joined piquetero and other groups to blockade bridges and highways in Neuquén, and they have visited Buenos Aires and other cities to take part in assemblies and demonstrations. In return, as we have already noted, they have been successfully assisted by piqueteros and others in attempted evictions.

The Brukman workers in Buenos Aires, capital, decided to occupy on the 18th of December 2001 after a collapse in wages in the autumn months, (they were being paid in 'vouchers' of dubious value), and general contempt from the bosses. One 28 year old worker died after they refused to pay for vital medicines. They had not originally planned to set the plant in motion, but when an order of textiles became due in January, they decided to sell it to pay their wages. They have since taken responsibility for the plant - paying bills, fixing a boiler, and reorganised the factory floor to save on energy costs. "We maintain our struggle not through stubbornness but through principles and logic. The owners have demonstrated that they are incapable of running this factory - all they know is how to exploit us, steal our money and invest in non-existent companies. If we could get the company on its feet, why couldn't they? ... Brukman has a total debt of 8 million dollars, and its major creditor is the State, with more than 2.5 million owed to the National Bank. So the demand we make is that the company be municipalized ... under workers' control." 41 Like Zanon, as we have seen, they are not waiting for the state's endorsement, but are running the plant with the assistance of neighbours and others. They also offer to turn the plant's production to providing for the needs of the 'community' - especially for hospitals, schools and the unemployed.

In La Mantanza, the closed Panificadora Cinco bakery was occupied by its workers with the support of the whole neighbourhood and put back to work to provide bread at reduced prices for the locals. There also, the piqueteros defended the occupation against a police intervention.

The workers' own statements and some of the information above point to the limits of self-management. Their belief that they can run the firm better than the bosses may originally come from their antagonistic relationship to the capitalist imposition of work on the shop floor. Running it better may mean making it easier for the workers to work there, contradicting the valorisation needs of the bosses. The fixing of the boiler may be one such example - workers may experience this both as an everyday nuisance as well as recognising its need in the smooth running of the factory, whilst the bosses for their part want to cut costs. The boss is then both a problem because he doesn't recognise the workers needs, but at the same time, he is seen as a sort of philistine of production, who ignores the qualitative aspects of production. As the workers occupy their work place and put it into motion under their own control however, this once antagonist relationship based on their immediate and intimate experience of the production process becomes a necessary identification with the business in itself - paying bills etc.

At this point the understanding of exploitation fixes narrowly on the incompetence of their particular bosses, as the workers, now in charge, need to prove to themselves and others that there's a better way of doing things. In other words, it is forgotten that the bosses are themselves constrained by capitalism to fuck their workers over. And when the workers forget this, they gloss over their own link, as 'self-managers', to this constraining social relation. Isolated in this situation where an inward looking, voluntaristic mindset is required, the burden of exploitation may end up being doubly hard, and splits may emerge, with the most committed and militant driving the others and effectively becoming the new capitalist bosses as they try to make the (once collective) project work. Or the hard won collective control of the production process may not be relinquished resulting in the workers not having the necessary capitalist discipline required to make their enterprise survive in the unforgiving capitalist market. One way or another, the law of value will re-impose itself on the activity of the workers.

We must be careful not to simply dismiss these occupations however. These struggles are a process which form part of an extensive class mobilisation. Some of their radical tendencies, such as the proposal to produce for local need, (Brukman proposed to cover the textile requirements of public hospitals, Panificadora Cinco provision of bread) - even if they do not prove possible or ultimately stay within the frame of exchange relations - move to concretise the demand that immediate needs be met, facing up to the mediation of exchange value. This is the social possibility of struggles, which can challenge the fetishism of commodities. This process of collectivisation of proletarian needs is produced through a heightened level of communication on the ground in Argentina. These workers are experiencing every day the solidarity of other proletarians in different sectors, and so materially feel the need and possibility to reciprocate. Their reformist demands such as nationalisation could, in a more generalised class offensive, be subverted by these very social links. The everyday experience of decision making and power on the shop floor is another important aspect of their experience. Whether the Argentinean movement can or will extend enough to give them the opportunity to realise the radical moments of their struggles is a different matter. For its part, as we have seen, the state seems to be aware of the radical potential of the occupations, using force to try and retake the factories on a number of occasions and in fact, in some cases, ending up participating in their expropriation by the workers.

There are said to be 100 companies involving some 10,000 workers under some form of worker's control in Argentina. Brukman and Zanon, along with the Clinica Junin of Cordoba, form the small, politicised wing, presenting themselves as an independent movement concerned with much more than just putting their factories back into production, and with an awareness of the pitfalls of self-management. As a Brukman worker said, "we don't want to set up a cooperative ....where we would have to submit ourselves to 11 people who would boss everyone else around." 42 Brukman continues to be a focal point for struggles, being a site for assemblies, workshops, exhibitions and organising. It is difficult to get a clear picture from the scant information we have available, but in general the others seem to have a different political orientation, calling themselves 'co-operatives', and constitute themselves in official structures involving state and unions. The two structures regrouping these companies are the MNER (National Movement of Recuperated Companies) comprising of 3600 workers, and FENCOOTER (National Federation of Co-operatives and Re-Converted Companies) with 1447 workers. In 'co-operatives' such as Ghelco SA., a producer of ingredients for frozen desserts, or the publishers Chilavert, the workers set up co-ops to restart production after the companies began bankruptcy proceedings. On the 12th September, the Buenos Aires legislature voted unanimously to permit the 'recuperation' by law of these two factories - the deal is that the government of Buenos Aires will pay the rent of the building for two years, while the equipment is ceded to the workers. After two years, the co-ops will apparently have first refusal on buying the plant.

A comrade from the German group Wildcat recently visited one of these co-operatives: "I visited an occupied metallurgical factory, La Baskonia, in La Matanza. There we met an advisor from the CGT. We soon realised that they'd opted for the legal route, for founding a cooperative before setting the factory to work. They are not interested in joining together with the other factories in struggle, nor in workers' control, nor even in nationalisation. 'It's a Peronist occupation', commented my comrades." Another example is IMPA, an aluminium factory which has been functioning in the form of a co-op for some time. The good thing is that they lend out one of the factory floors for solidarity parties - a fantastic place for parties! - but I never saw the workers from IMPA at any demonstrations or assemblies." 43 The last we have heard of the occupied factories at the time of writing is that Zanon and Brukman called a meeting on the 7th of September which attracted around 500 people, including leftist parties, where it was agreed to set up a national strike fund. On the same day at La Baskonia, the MNER also called a meeting attracting the same sort of numbers, but amongst the workers attending were members of Congress, senators and the vice-president of the cabinet.

8. The 'middle classes' and the neighbourhood assemblies
The French group Mouvement Communiste warn of the dangers of the alliance between proletariat and the middle classes in Argentina: "History shows the exploited have little to expect from these sectors of society, always ready, in the last instance, to save their own skins by allying themselves with the dominant class to the detriment of the working class." 44 Time will tell if this turns out, again, to be the case. But this view ignores the rapid and drastic proletarisation of the majority of the middle classes. 45 Of course, the warnings of Mouvement Communist have a basis in reality, which proletarians involved in struggle recognise. Working class cynicism about the new 'middle class' movements in Argentina - 'they're only on the streets now because their pockets have been touched' - neatly testify to this truth while simultaneously confirming the reality of the middle class' changed situation. Some proletarians are reluctant to tie their fate too closely to that of the middle class assemblies movement for fear that they will eventually be betrayed. Considering the state's near bankruptcy however, it is difficult to see how it will have the means to buy off the middle class. Even a patched up settlement involving new IMF money can only be a short-term solution for the bourgeoisie.

One of the biggest difficulties for us has been to try to understand the composition of this newly vocal and troublesome middle class. What does 'middle class' mean in Argentina? Some comment that, for an Argentine, 'middle class' can mean what we in the West would recognise as a secure proletarian job, even a factory job. This entails a problem of class categories being mixed up in translation, but the issue does not end there. It seems clear that a large number of people that we would recognise as middle class have plummeted into a life of bare survival. The papers are full of stories of academics and other professionals being reduced to selling candles in public parks, or well dressed Buenos Aires families exchanging their extensive wardrobes in the barter clubs, or even forced to collect rubbish on the streets. Echanges state that some 500,000 people have fallen into social immiseration to populate the villas miserias where banners ironically proclaim: "Welcome to the middle classes!" One Argentine economist states that "the middle classes understand that they've reached the end of the road. It's now a whole new situation". 46 But what of the teachers and other government workers which have been such a strong feature of this cycle of struggle from its beginnings in the mid-'90s? Would their traditional status and pay mark them out as middle class professionals? What about the petit-bourgeoisie? Are many of them losing their property in this economic climate? Are they involved in popular assemblies and in attacks against the corralito? What is the relation of the assemblies to the barter clubs and who is involved in these? All of these questions go to explaining the difficulty of understanding the phenomenon of the popular assemblies.

It is often stated that the neighbourhood assemblies - one of the forms associated with middle class organisation in Argentina - are so heterogeneous that it is almost impossible to study them. The fact that there seems to be neighbourhood assemblies in all areas of Buenos Aires involving proletarians in different situations as well can lead to lazy affirmations of diversity and openness for post modernist ideologues intent on shedding class as a social category. Echanges et Mouvement, dispel some of the fog by distinguishing between two broad tendencies of neighbourhood assemblies. 47 One as a phenomenon coming from a long tradition of neighbourhood organisation in working class areas and shanty towns, merging with the new assemblies of the piqueteros in the new situation of mass unemployment of the '90s; and the other as a result of the sudden and more recent impoverishment of the middle classes. In recent months of course, with different sectors recognising each other's needs in struggles, these two tendencies may have increasingly coordinated their actions and demands, (and certainly have talked to each other at the Interbarrial), further complicating the situation. But if the 'middle class' assemblies are dismissed, it is usually by identifying them with the merely middle class problem of the corralito, (in Argentina certainly, they are not understood in this limited way any longer). This identification is then useful to denounce the so-called middle class struggle and their supposed hegemony in the movement. Although it is true that these assemblies were formed around the time of the implementation of the bank freezes and that this problem mobilises a part of their energies, it is a mistake to limit them to this.

Twenty assemblies sprang up in Buenos Aires in the two weeks following the 19th and 20th, and there are now estimated to be 140 across the country, with some 8,000 regular participants. It's sometimes said or assumed that the first cacerolazo, on the19th of December, was a protest about the corralito. Certainly there was widespread anger and despair over what many suspected was the permanent disappearance of their life savings. But it was De La Rua's announcement of the state of emergency which mobilised people in an immediate, spontaneous reaction. Whilst of course the 'middle class' experience of the corralito was one of the reasons for their presence on the streets on the 19th, the radical meaning of the events that ensued is that everyone was on the streets refusing with disgust the state of emergency, (and the memories of dictatorship that it awoke), and in that could recognise each other as subjects in struggle, ultimately on the basis of a real, material rapprochement in their experience of exploitation. After that day, in the many cacerolazos that followed, placards saying anything about the lost savings were in a tiny minority. By the same token then, it would be wrong to characterise the assemblies as populated solely by disgruntled savers, who, presumably, would turn their back on the movement once their savings were returned to them. The problem of bank freezes takes up a relatively small part of the discussions of the assemblies and the Interbarrial. Though their appearance was sudden, the assemblies did not materialise out of a vacuum, but out of a developing situation of material impoverishment and the attendant disillusionment with politics, (in the general elections of October 2001, 22% of the (compulsory) ballot was blank or spoiled, whilst 26% of voters stayed at home). At the beginning it seems, the new assemblies, based on their middle class constituency, (apart from passing numerous resolutions on political subjects such as the national debt), were concentrating on organising new cacerolazos, the 'symbolic' form of protest associated with the middle classes. The cacerolazos had a life of their own anyway, attracting many more people than regularly attended the assemblies. They took place every Friday in the weeks after the 19th, in almost ritual fashion.

Violence was a feature of savers' actions from the 19th onwards. Since then, savers' protests inside banks have also been attacked by the police. This does not, of course, suffice as proof of the revolutionary intent of the middle classes. We note some of the statements that accompany middle class corralito protests - "we are the middle class, we send our children to school, we pay our taxes, and now we have been robbed", "we never break the law, we are not criminals", "without savers no credit, without credit no production - without production, no nation." These slogans display classic middle class subjectivity of course - the implicitly anti-working class, self- righteous sense of betrayal of those that ordinarily play by the rules and do well by them, which is also a general identification with a properly functioning system of capitalist wealth production. But we are almost tempted to say 'so what?' The subjectivity of the newly proletarianised middle classes is going to lag behind their practice in a situation of impoverishment. It is not what this or that skint 'middle class' individual thinks about his situation at a particular moment which is important, but what they will be forced to do as a proletarianised class. Not all of them will be completely skint - and the slogans quoted above may sometimes come from the less badly off parts of the middle class - but it looks like their lot can only worsen and a large proportion of these people are having to come to terms with a situation where their traditional demands for a renewal of the political system, based on moans about corruption and the failure of mediators, is failing to meet their immediate needs.

Neither should we assume that the savers involved in actions against the corralito are only 'middle class', as it has also affected workers with relatively small saving, pensioners, and indirectly but very tangibly, as we have already noted, workers dependent on the black economy. Indeed, Echanges claim that the unofficial sector makes up 50% of the real economy! 48 On the 15th May 2002, an elderly couple in their eighties who had got a court order to force their bank, Banco de la Nacion, to release their life savings, found that the bank still refused, claiming that the law had changed since the order was signed. The couple, living on a pension of 150 pesos a month (£30), decided to remain in the bank until they got their money (US $38,000), and sat themselves in the window, refusing to leave. As night fell, two local assemblies arrived to support them, joining the crowd that had already gathered, until there were around three hundred people, banging pots and chanting "Give them their money back!" Having entered the bank that morning, the exhausted couple finally left at 9pm, with the bank's promise of half their money the next day. 49 This example, we feel, ably demonstrates the possibilities of different needs, in a situation of class mobilisation, to be immediately recognised by others and their meaning transformed in this socialisation process.

Leaving aside the cacerolazos and protests against the corralito, what is perhaps more important is that, like the piqueteros, the assemblies are being pushed by immediate, everyday needs to develop radical practices which come into confrontation with the essence of capitalist social relations - the commodity form - all the while developing debates on the national debt and petitioning the state on certain issues. Many assemblies have set up communal soup kitchens, organised collective, self-reduction actions to reduce food prices; organised to defend impoverished tenants from evictions and set up groups (sometimes with workers from utility companies) to illegally re-connect people cut off for non-payment of bills to public water and electricity supplies. Assemblies have also negotiated with (or rather pressured) utilities companies for reductions in prices. There is strong support within assemblies for local facilities and schools in crisis - some school canteens, unable to function for lack of funds, are being run by assemblies. This is already an impressive list of steps of direct appropriation of use values by people for whom 'paying for things' - exchange value - must become a ridiculous notion, if they are to meet their human needs.

The other important mobilisation has been around the problems of health provision - hospitals and clinics being in absolute crisis due to the collapse of PAMI, the state medical service. In response to price inflation and shortages of drugs, (many drugs were withdrawn from the shelves at the start of the crisis in order to protect their prices), one group, including medical workers, set up a table in the centre of Buenos Aires where people could bring their unwanted drugs and perhaps find something they or a family member needed; a long and desperate queue quickly formed. At the same time the health committees of some 36 assemblies had made a written request to the government of Buenos Aires proposing that the committees participate or take over the running of faltering hospitals. The health department exhausted their patience with diversionary tactics, meagre concessions to the plan etc. A turning point was reached - "In the face of their failure to address our concerns in writing, we resolve to suspend meetings with these bureaucrats. And we propose to take control ourselves, forming Popular Health Committees in each hospital, following the example of the Belgrano-Nu-ez assembly, which got medicines and supplies for their hospitals through their mobilisation." 50 The assembly of Belgrano-Nu-ez, a prosperous barrio of Buenos Aires, had joined with other local assemblies in April 2002 to assist the stricken local hospital, whose workers had informed them that drugs were being withheld by pharmaceutical companies, leading to price increases of 300% and 400%. The hospital workers and asamblei­stas produced a list of the drugs most sorely needed, and went en masse to the laboratories of Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, to demand the drugs. Within days, Novartis was forced to provide 25,000 doses of 1,129 different medicines. 51 In September 2002, the assembly of Flores in Buenos Aires occupied a clinic that had been disused for 6 years with the aim of opening it to workers from occupied factories who have been cut out of union managed health provision, and also for the use of the neighbours. The assemblies have moved also in the winter to occupy disused buildings to use for meetings and organising. The assembly of Parque Lezama Sur, occupying a disused bank building to which they invite piqueteros and other groups, describe this initiative encouragingly as "not about simply replacing the state in the functions in which it has absented itself [health, education], neither is it about simple humanitarianism, nor nostalgic actions destined to uphold the old national-state promises of integration and progress. Instead it is about taking responsibility/control of our actual conditions... proposing the establishment of social links where capitalism acts as a force of separation, of sadness and the formation of isolated individuals." 52

As we have seen, there is a growing tendency within assemblies such as these to fill the gaps where the state has become unable or unwilling to act. As is clear from the health issue, the assemblies move, according to the urgency of their need, from discussing the national debt and making demands of the state to taking direct action. Assemblies have also been attacked by plain-clothes police and other armed gangs. Members have been followed, threatened and beaten. Goons gathered together by municipal Peronist leaders have attacked assemblies, such as the assembly of Merlo in Buenos Aires. These attacks are a seal of approval of the radical political significance of the assemblies which its members presumably cannot ignore.

Another issue we should consider is the ever present and contested attempts by leftist groups to bring their politics to bear on the assemblies. Initial press coverage of the Argentine movement was full of reports of participants rejecting leftist organisations from assemblies and demos. At first glance this may of course look like a radical rejection of politics, but more needs to be said and understood. The obvious thing to say is that if the assemblies were largely 'middle class', then the rejection of leftist politics could be seen as a rejection on the basis of middle class experience of class politics in general, in favour of a politics based of citizenry etc. On the other hand, as we have discussed, the 'middle class' cannot really afford this sort of politics any more, and their initial knee-jerk reaction against class politics, could well have quite naturally mutated into a more radical rejection based on their immediate needs and the autonomous forms of struggles they have developed to meet them. If a 'middle class' assembly is trying to organise school meals and stealing electricity and saving neighbours from eviction for non payment of rent, and discovering new forms of social cooperation in the process, the intrusion of leftists with their programmes and insistence on leadership would naturally be unwelcome! As one asambleista put it - "the assemblies belong to us, not to militants who look upon us with contempt and try to impose on us an experience that we do not need." 53

Again we must advise caution in attempts at interpretation because of the opaqueness of this complex situation. We are not easily going to be able to know the class composition and histories of the different assemblies, and so examples of leftist involvement when they come up are going to be difficult to interpret. More generally, we must warn against generalising from isolated examples. Some assemblies will be successfully controlled by this or that leftist party; the general trend, however, has been for the rejection of trotskyist and other groups, although some attempts to manipulate assemblies, by trotskyist groups such as the Partido Obrero and MAS (Argentine Socialist Movement), have resulted in the collapse of assemblies.

Overtures by mainstream politicians have so far been rejected. And a transparent attempt by the CTA union confederation to co-opt the assemblies movement earlier this year ended in failure. A proposal had been voted through at the fifth Interbarrial to march around the National Congress on the 13th of February - "when the assembly members reached Congress, they saw that a stage had been put up, from which leaders of the CTA were already speaking." 54 They were later vilified for this manoeuvring at the Interbarrial. Because of suspicion or outright rejection from the assemblies, the leftist parties have gravitated to the Interbarrial in an attempt to bring their influence to bear on proceedings. This has led to a reaction from the assemblies and wearying debates about representation and process. The weekly Interbarrial is supposed to be a coordination of autonomous assemblies, not a decision making body in its own right. It soon became clear to the assemblies however, that large numbers of militants and others, (cops and state agents have been mentioned too 55 ), came to the Interbarrial to vote on issues proposed in the assemblies without being delegated. A debate on representation began, in which concerned asambleistas pushed for a one assembly, one vote system with revocable and rotating delegates. There were protests from leftist militants who feared they were being outflanked, knowing they would have little chance of becoming assembly representatives. 56 Many boycotted the debate, and a growing frustration and disillusionment with the Interbarrial, because of these problems, was reflected in a sharp fall in attendance, with some assemblies opting to liaise with others on a more informal basis.

However, limiting the Interbarrial to coordination only could in itself constrain the possibilities of the movement and, in any case, is difficult to keep in practice. To on assembly 'autonomy' and the repudiation of collective decisions to protect the movement from outside incursion could be formalised into the atomisation and isolation of (direct) democracy. Collective discussion and concerted action is needed for particular events and is essential for the long-term prospects of the assemblies - especially in the case of state repression. 57 The 'moment of truth' of Leninist politics is to recognise this need, and that is why they 'lie in ambush' at the Interbarrial to influence events. 58 A PO member told the newspaper Pagina 12, "If the assemblies limit themselves to running organic allotments and other neighbourhood questions, that for us is a step backwards." 59 Apart from testifying to the condescending attitude of the trotskyist groups, this warning has some sense to it. What he cannot see is the relationship between neighbourhood questions and a wider struggle. He doesn't recognise that the 'political' is the activity of the class, organic allotments and all. The revolution can only be the process of struggle of the autoconvocados, the 'self convened', (as the asambleistas call themselves). It is also too easy to blame the stagnation of the assemblies movement on the leftists - these problems may arise when the movement as a whole doesn't know where to go and has lost the initiative.

The assemblies are also involved in the organisation of escraches, a practice inherited from the aftermath of the dictatorship. Escraches, meaning an 'outing' or 'exposure' in Argentine slang, were developed by the group H.I.J.O.S. - children of the disappeared - in the years after the dictatorship in order to break the conspiracy of silence shielding the murderers of the dictatorship. They can be explained as a reaction of individuals against the policy of impunity guaranteed by Menem in 1995 to the Generals. They take place at particular locations, often private houses intending to involve the local community to 'out' individuals. They boast an impressive amount of organisation and creativity and attempt to involve locals etc. Their glaring limit is the fact that, with their language of 'justice', they can identify the inequities they've suffered with particular individuals and not the social system as a whole. It is particularly in this that they seem open to be recuperated as merely the radical part of the normalisation process after the dictatorship. On the other hand however, they are also by their very nature a confrontation with the fact that democracy has itself normalised the era of dictatorship, and this could lead to a more far-reaching understanding of the interdependence of periods of democracy and dictatorship in a country like Argentina, especially in the present climate, when the weight of more immediate needs is pressing on its actors.

However, some members of the original escrache group, H.I.J.O.S., have expressed reservations about the new informal escrache practices, which target present members of the bourgeoisie. In this more generalised phenomenon, instances of corruption and other misdeeds of particular individuals are published on the net, in the streets, and even on a TV programme, with addresses and other necessary information. Once outed, judges, politicians, businessmen are then insulted, jostled, and sometimes attacked around their homes, to and from work etc. These attacks are also reported to happen spontaneously, on the hoof, when someone is recognised by chance in the street. Even members of the media have been targeted, the much-disliked Canal 13 TV station coming in for a lot of stick in particular. Whilst this could be an expression of a standard middle class rejection of a comprador bourgeoisie, the fact that the media is also being attacked is testament to the marginalisation of the middle classes. These actions may also be part of a generalised hatred of the representatives of capital which expresses itself spontaneously.

Another feature of the Argentine situation associated with the assemblies and the 'middle class' is the barter clubs. As the Wildcat comrade commented, "there are a huge number of people participating, but I don't see it as a 'movement', instead as a method of survival, as a way of getting things that people are now unable to buy. But the rules are the same as in the wider capitalist economy: whoever has money can make a profit and can make others do something for him. For example, there are people who go to the supermarket to buy goods to take to the trueque, and exchange for other things or services that are worth more than they paid. And anyone who has no money or goods has no choice but to offer services, or in other words: sell their labour power -a well known model...I have even heard that capitalist frauds have reached the clubes del trueque, that there are forgeries of the credits which are the currency. And in the relation between people, there is little difference from the capitalist model. Each person appears as an individual to sell/ exchange their things or services." We can compare this form of relation based on survival needs to the more interesting actions of assemblies and piqueteros described above which organise survival in a way which relies on collectivity and solidarity. The barter clubs are a largely 'middle class' phenomenon, but the quote above also suggests the subtle stratifications within the 'middle class' - with some impoverished and trying to converge their stock of belongings into cash to survive, and others maybe on the skids but being able to turn a profit because of greater liquidity. As a corrective to this view, Echanges feel we must keep in mind that this form of exchange may also take a more spontaneous, un-commodified form as the neighbourly exchange of needs based practically on skill, time etc. without these necessarily being measured and equalised. 60 A - 'would you look after my kids tomorrow if I fix your sink on Tuesday' - can be proposed spontaneously and goes on the one hand towards creating social links between neighbours, but on the other will have a tendency to formalise. In a situation like Argentina there is going to be both the pressure on this sort of relation to formalise and to de-formalise. It might be difficult to trace a dividing line between the two practices.

The events of last December hit the headlines across the world. What struck the bourgeois press was the mass protests which resulted from the banking restrictions that threatened the wholesale impoverishment of the Argentine middle class. However, as we have seen, there is more to the Argentine movement than the banging of pots and pans. We have shown how there has been a long tradition of working class struggles based on self-organization, of which the present piqueteros actions are a recent example. Also, at the current moment in Argentine history, the material conditions of the middle classes have shifted downwards, and this forms the basis for solidarity with proletarian movements based on shared experiences.

As we have seen, the movements in Argentina must be understood in the context of the effects of 'neo-liberal' restructuring in a country on the periphery of capital, where social ties in proletarian areas still form the basis of the organization of life. Whilst in the west, 'neo-liberal' policies led to the decomposition of the organized working class and a slide towards the 'war of all against all', in the periphery a different trend is noticeable. Neo-liberal policies, in attacking working class standards of living and its official form of organization and representation within capital, also halt the incomplete process of subsumption of labour to capital, a process which was intrinsically involved with the state and national development programmes. We have sketched the specific features of Peronist integration which has been one of the central dynamics of struggles in Argentina.

It is important not to be blind to the particularities of Peronism when we enumerate its similarities with European fascism (integration of class through trade union into corporatist system, nationalism etc.). Capitalism on the periphery could not complete the post-war integration into state-led capitalism in the same way as in Europe. Some level of class autonomy, of community co-operation survived where, from their daily experiences in meeting their needs, people recognized that it was as acting as a class for itself that produced results. Here, for example, we see the impact of the semi-autonomous base of Peronism, with its blurred edges (blurred precisely because it shades into un-institutionalised immediate community organization), which eventually became troublesome for Peron and was also an intractable problem for the dictatorship which followed (and which actually demanded Peron's return). Later we see Peronist base organizations re-asserting themselves by default under Menem as an unofficial sector which would cushion the effects of reform. At this point, these networks actually assisted in the dismantling the very clientelist network that connected them to the state and under the period of industrial development were in a sense the guarantee of their survival. The loose associations now in place around piquetero groups and assemblies have a less mediated relationship to the state than they had with Peronist clientelism. In attacking clientelist waste in the state, De La Rua, for example, attempts to outflank the Peronist clientelist channels in local government by giving out 'work plans' to the unemployed through NGOs. Now these have effectively merged with piquetero organizing. This means that the informal channels of co-operation and neighbourhood provision are now freed of clientelist mediation and its distortions. Autonomous groups like Anibal Veron can work collectively in a way impossible before. They face a weak state directly and try to get what money they can out of it, disrupting the accumulation of capital without recuperating counterweights.

However, we must be careful not to fetishize the high points of the Argentine movement to the detriment of a more sober, wider perspective. Although the struggles have involved hundreds of thousands of people, there are millions who are not involved. How are we to consider this 'silent majority'? No doubt many of them are sympathetic with much of the mobilizations, and may be involved, at one remove; some may have fallen into despair and the atomization of a war of all against all of survival on the streets; whilst others, maybe partly as a reaction to the threat they feel from this group, are fearful of the chaos that surrounds them. On the one hand, it's the inertia of this silent majority which is the ultimate limit of the movement; but, on the other, their indecision is a block to the bourgeoisie resolving the crisis in their favour.

One way of looking at the development of the current situation in Argentina is to consider the events that led up to the calling of elections. There were two huge, country-wide piquetero days of action in May, with hundreds of roads blocked. Duhalde, trying to convince the IMF that he could keep his house in order, announced that the piquetero blockages could be tolerated no longer. Soon after, and presumably not by chance, the police attacked a piquetero action on the outskirts of Buenos Aires with live ammunition, injuring 30 and killing two. But the response was immediate, the Plaza de Mayo filled up in protest; 50,000 were there by the third day. Duhalde had no credibility in general and could not impose the violent will of the state because of the alertness of the mobilization. He then called the elections. This might be a dubious strategy for the bourgeoisie, as it might put the seal on the rejection of politics that has been such a strong feature of the movements, expressed as a massive abstention rate and/or spoilt vote. According to a poll in Pagina 12 newspaper, 71% of people thought that, whoever wins the elections, little or nothing would change.

If these democratic channels fail, the apparently obvious option for the bourgeoisie is the return of military dictatorship and terror. However, terror is never so simple as it might appear. Proletarians are not always the mere victims of it. The army in a country like Argentina was one of the essential linchpins of the state development programmes which now belong to the past. Soldiers are closer to the working class than the cops; they have to be convinced that they are fighting for the people, not simply coerced into killing, otherwise the weapons put in their hands could suddenly turn into the weapons of the revolution. The army comes in with a new social settlement. If it can't, it may not be able to guarantee the loyalty of its soldiers. The problem with the restructuring is that it attacks unproductive capital and the state - in other words, sectors like the army; the Argentine army is now much reduced in size. One officer was quoted as not being certain enough of the loyalty of his troops to consider an intervention. We must remember at this point that Argentines feel that the events of the 19th of December - the most generalized and spontaneous mobilization - was a repudiation of this very possibility, burying once and for all the fear and silence of the years of the dictatorship in this huge collective affirmation.

Unable to impose the policies deemed necessary for the resolution of the crisis, the Argentine bourgeoisie face an implacable international capital organized through the IMF. The crisis in Argentina has demonstrated the limits of the neo-liberal policies imposed through the IMF over the past two decades. By making a few rich while impoverishing ever greater numbers, these policies have undermined the social conditions necessary for economic and political stability. Neo-liberal policies are pushing more and more countries in the periphery into the same predicament, particularly in South America. However, with the world economy entering into recession, the IMF cannot afford to back down. If the Argentine bourgeoisie is let off the hook then Brazil, Turkey, Nigeria and many others will be next. It will be the end of neo-liberalism. However, if Argentina explodes in a revolution - one which could be contagious given the rise in struggles in Latin America - America may have to intervene. But, given the fact that America is having to defend the neo-liberal world order in the Middle East at the moment, will it be stretched by its over-commitment on the world stage?

  • 1The piqueteros being the movement based around the unemployed which uses road blocking pickets as their tactic of struggle.
  • 2For one account of the uprising, and other reports and information, see SchNews, No. 350.
  • 3The slogan is still regularly heard on the streets of the cities; rarely chanted, it is almost always sung, over and over - "Ohhh, que se vayan todos, que no quede ni uno solo, que se vayan todos...." ("out with them all, every single one of them").
  • 4Sources for this section: Ronaldo Munck, Ricardo Falcon and Bernardo Galitelli, Argentina, From Anarchism to Peronism, (London: Zed Books Ltd 1987), pp. 24-105; Confederation Nationale du Travail - Association Internationales des Travailleurs, 'La Fora dans le Mouvement Syndical Argentin', Marseille, 2002; pp. 25-30; pp. 17-20; 'Working Class Report 1917-1921: Generalised Revolutionary Struggle in Patagonia', Communism, 4. A good source which was considered throughout the article is Mouvement Communiste, 'Argentine: La Cohesion Sociale Vole en Eclats', No. 1, Février 2002, B.O. 1666, Centre Monnaie, Bruxelles; news.html
  • 5The strength of the proletariat was an important element for the power balance of the ruling class. In fact Ronaldo Munck (op. cit., p. 57) stresses the importance of the general strike of 1910 for this political change, which happened two years later.
  • 6Notice that the decision of bending towards the moderate socialists did not make FORA admittedly 'socialist'. In fact, due to radically divergent questions of principles, the socialist unions were united in a different federation, the UGT (Union General de Trabajadores, founded in 1906), and did not join FORA. All the moderate unions joined together only in 1930 to form the CGT, as we will see later.
  • 7As quoted by Munck, op. cit., p. 67.
  • 8It is worth saying that the struggles of 1919-1920 in Patagonia involved also Chilean Patagonia, where for example the Chilean workers were able to seize the town of Puerto Natale for more than a year. The efforts of FORA V to link the workers in struggle across the boundary were boycotted by FORA IX.
  • 9The repression led by Varela was a real massacre, where more than 1,500 workers were killed.
  • 10Sources for this section: Ronaldo Munck, op. cit., pp. 106-146. Confederation National du Travail, op. cit., pp. 29-30.
  • 11That is, substituting the import of goods with national production oriented to sell on the internal market. This implied a major restructuring of the Argentinean economy.
  • 12Ronaldo Munck argues that the 'orthodox' interpretation of Peronism as based on a new working class who had recently moved from the countryside, and who was less class conscious, more traditionalist and were thus prone to accept an authoritarian State. According to studies quoted by Munck, 'the organizations and leaders of the 'old' working class participated intensely in the rise of Peronism' and, contrary to the theories of the separation between new and old workers, Argentinean working class was 'remarkably homogeneous'. See discussion in Ronaldo Munck, pp. 121-123. If the 'orthodox' theory on Peronism might make sense at the ideological level, it is difficult to explain the strength of the Argentinean working class under Peronism without taking into account the existence of a 'remarkable unity' of the working class.
  • 13Op. cit., p. 231.
  • 14Individualism is a one-sided ideological viewpoint within capitalist social relations, where social interaction among producers takes the form of the social relationship of their commodities on the market. The viewpoint of our society as a civil society based on free individuals is of course ideological, being one-sided, because it hides the fact that the real personal freedom and happiness of the producers is denied by alienation and exploitation inherent in wage labour and in market relationships. Obviously, the other side of the same ideology is the integration of the fragmented individuals within the system through identification with abstract communities centred around unifying issues such as nationalism, the bourgeois party, etc. The fact that individualism and collectivism are contradictory may tempt us to oppose the first by appealing to the second one or vice versa. But this approach would fail to grasp the problem dialectically and see the common root of both ideological standpoints in the concrete bourgeois relationships within capitalism. Only with the concrete challenge to commodity relations in the practice of class struggle both individualism (the denial of real happiness and freedom) and abstract collectivism (the denial of real collective management of our lives) will lose their compensatory attractions and their reason of being.
  • 15Sources for this section: Munck, op. cit., pp. 127-228.
  • 16Ronaldo Munck, op. cit., p. 150.
  • 17As accounted by Ronaldo Munck, op. cit., p. 158.
  • 18Mouvement Communiste gives us a list of names of union bureaucrats and their businesses in the 70s. Some of them are: Marcelino Mansilla, general secretary of UOCRA of Mar de Plata, who owned night- clubs, a textile factory and a restaurant. The brothers Elorza, secretaries of the union of hoteliers, had a restaurant. Triacca, bureaucrat in the plastics union owned a pig farm and a transport company. Lorenzo Miguel, secretary of UOM, was co- director of another transport company. Armando March, secretary of the union of the commercial employees was a director of a 'union' bank. Regelio Coria, leader of UOCRA, co-owned the building materials factory TUCON and had a huge farm in Paraguay...
  • 19As Mouvement Communiste explain, the 'guerrilla' movement started in Argentina in 1955, with the Movimiento Revolucionario Peronist (MRP), which split into a right- wing and a left-wing faction. After the student struggles of 1966, and the struggles against the military regime of Ongania, encouraged also by 'theology of liberation', more numerous groups appeared in the '70s (there were Peronist, Catholic, Guevarist, Trotskyist, Maoist factions). The Montoneros came out in 1970, with a mixture of Peronism, nationalism and third -worldism ideology. In 1974 they had 100,000 members, with 3,500-5,000 cadres.
  • 20Sources for this section: Ronaldo Munck, 'Argentina', Capital & Class, 22, Spring 1984, p. 15; Martha Roldán, 'Continuities and Discontinuities in the Regulation and Hierarchization of the World Automotive Industry'; Andy Beckett, 'Blueprint for Britain', The Guardian Weekend, May 4 2002, p. 17; Arthur P. Whitaker, Argentina Upheaval (London: Atlantic Press), p. 97; p. 100; p. 109.
  • 21Sources for this section: Donald G. Richard, 'Regional Integration and Class Conflict: MERCOSUR and the Argentine Labour Movement', Capital & Class, 57, Autumn 1995, p. 55; Martha Roldán, op. cit.; Hernán Camarero, Pablo Pozzi, Alejandro Schneider, 'Unrest and Repression in Argentina', New Politics, Vol. 7, No. 1 (new series), Summer 1998; Gerard Baker, 'US Defends its Stance on Argentina' and Thomas Catán, 'European Countries Protest at Argentina Recovery Plan', Financial Times, 7/1/02; articles in Financial Times, 22/12/01; Institudo de Estudio y Formacion, Highlights of Labour Market Conditions in Argentina, Global Policy Network.
  • 22After the Second World War the USA had emerged as the unrivalled economic super- power. Since the US could out-compete all its potential competitors in all the most important industries it was in the interests of American capital to promote free trade and liberalization. However, although the USA sought to promote the free movement of capital and commodities, and endeavoured to break up the old European empires and their associated special trading relationships, such policies were always tempered by the need to contain the Eastern Bloc. As a result the USA was prepared to tolerate allied countries imposing policies of national development, even though such policies may have inhibited the profitability of US capital, insofar as such policies prevented the spread of 'Communism'. With the fall of the USSR such a constraint on the USA's insistence on liberalization was lifted.
  • 23Between 1991 and 1998 the trade between the four countries making up MERCOSUR quadrupled. However, with the crisis of 1998-9, which saw Brazil devalue the Real by 40%, MERCOSUR began to unravel. Between 1999 and 2001 the trade between the four countries fell. As Argentina's trade deficit continued to rise, exacerbated by a further 30% devaluation of the Real, it was agreed to temporarily suspend the MERCOSUR customs union in March 2001.
  • 24The role of the IMF in this desperate situation, again, was primarily that of defending the interests of the creditors. One of the main policies imposed by the IMF on the developing countries was that of financial liberalization, the removal of restrictions on the movement of capitals in and out of the countries. In the latest hectic years, when it was clear that the peso would collapse, financial companies (for example Citibank) and individual creditors rushed to take dollars out of the country. In order to stop this movement, Argentina's authorities employed then a 'Law of Economic Subversion', previously designed to track financial movements related to terrorism; but the IMF put pressure on the government to cancel this law.
  • 25James Petras, 'The Unemployed Workers Movement in Argentina', The Monthly Review, January 27th 2002, Vol. 53, No. 8.
  • 26Since devaluation from one to one with the dollar, the peso has fallen to around 3 .6 to the dollar, but 'bonds', or parallel currencies, are more and more replacing the peso - the peso is becoming scarce - with around 6 billion Lecops in circulation.
  • 27'L'Argentine de la Pauperisation - la Revolte. Une Avancée vers l'Autonomie', Echanges et Mouvement, June 2002.
  • 28Echanges, pp. 13-14.
  • 29Which is part of the Central de los Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA, Argentinean Workers' Central), a large union confederation.
  • 30'Movilizacion Popular, Silencio Sindical', Daniel Campione, 19.4.02, on
  • 31These are: Movimiento Sin Trabajo Teresa Vive, linked to the trotskyist MST (Movement of Socialist Workers); the MIJP (Independent Movement of Pensioners and Retired people) - ex-CCC and now with links to various trotskyist parties; the MTL (Territorial Liberation Movement), a small group linked to the Communist Party; Agrupacion Tendencia Clasista 29 de Mayo (29th May Classist Tendency Grouping), of the Liberation Party.
  • 32MTD Anibal Veron, 'Blocking of Access to the Federal Capital', 22nd November 2001.
  • 33James Petras, 'The Unemployed Workers Movement in Argentina'.
  • 34Julio Burdman, 'Origen y Evolucion de los "Piqueteros"'.
  • 35A bourgeoisie in the periphery of capital which makes its money by hanging around with western capitalist interests, taking a cut from the deals made to exploit the country's resources, and therefore having no interest in national development.
  • 36'El Bloque Piquetero Marcho en La Plata', Argentina Arde, No. 8, 11th April 2002, p. 3.
  • 37'Ni un peso, ni un Soldado', Argentina Arde, No. 7, 22nd March 2002, p. 3.
  • 38Mouvement Communiste, pp. 17-18.
  • 39Asamblea Parque Lezama Sur, 5.2.02.
  • 40Letter from Raul Godoy, General Secretary of the Union of Ceramist Workers and Employees of Neuquén (SOECN), Neuquén, Argentina, November 16th 2001, published on Indymedia.
  • 41'Trabaja y Vende', Argentina Arde, No. 8, 11th April 2002, p. 5.
  • 42Echanges, p. 45.
  • 43Email to Aufheben, 9.9.02.
  • 44Mouvement Communiste, 'Letter' No. 1, Feb. 2002, p. 6.
  • 45After the devaluation of the peso, average middle class incomes amounted to just 75% of former working class salaries. The income of bank employees in the capital has fallen by 60%, from US$1081 to US$432 a month, without allowing for the rapidly rising prices of everything.
  • 46Echanges, p. 14.
  • 47See pp. 26-32.
  • 48Ibid., p. 13.
  • 49Full story on the Argentina Now website.
  • 50 'A Otro Perro con ese Hueso', Argentina Arde, No. 8, 11th April 2002, p. 8.
  • 51'Los Remedios en su Lugar', Argentina Arde, No. 8, 11th April 2002, p. 8.
  • 52Colectivo Situaciones, 'Apuntes para un Nuevo Protagonismo Social' (April 2002, published by 'de mano en mano'), p. 126.
  • 53Echanges, p. 33.
  • 54'Seeds of Revolution' in Freedom, 23.3.02, Vol. 63, No.6, p. 3.
  • 55Argentina Arde, No. 8, 11th April 2002, p. 8.
  • 56The debate was also connected to the problems in many neighbourhood assemblies that the participation of left party activists were causing - although in the first cacerolazos and demonstrations organised by the assemblies, party banners were so frowned upon as to be absent, over time, more and more party banners began to appear.
  • 57One of the big splits occurred over proposals for Mayday demonstrations. One proposal, at the Interbarrial, was to join the mass demo, the other being for a separate, mass meeting at the obelisk. Partido Obrero and MST militants actually had a punch-up over the issue, whilst 24 of the 57 assemblies attending that day abstained from voting over the issue. At the following Interbarrial of the 28th April, the assembly of Liniers denounced the crisis of the Interbarrial, "provoked by a process of demobilisation of the neighbourhood assemblies and because of the partisan practices of two organisations in particular, who have brought their partisan struggles to the heart of this incipient organism which the neighbours, with much effort, are constructing." They proposed that each assembly should, finally, have one speaker and one vote, although as many asambleístas as possible should continue to attend to, amongst other things, monitor their delegates. The vote was passed with only one dissension.
  • 58Although it is perhaps in part thanks to parties such as the PO that the links between 'piquete and cacerola' were made so early - at the piquetero march from La Matanza on the 28th January 2002, when the slogan 'piquete and pot banger, the struggle is the same' was born, the assembly which first greeted the piqueteros and gave them breakfast was that of Villa Urquiza, which has a large PO participation.
  • 59This and previous from Raul Zibechi, 'La Izquierda Argentina y las Asambleas Barriales, Divididas', 6 de Mayo del 2002.
  • 60Echanges, p. 39.

Caiman del Barrio

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

This article's very informative, with a good analysis of peronismo and lots of interesting facts and anecdotes about the 2001-2 movements.

However, I find its conception of the "middle class" to be vague, innaccurate and somewhat patronising. Why aren't they necessarily revolutionary subjects if they're selling their labour power, especially if they may just be workers with secure jobs (which could just be due to them being in sectors with a history of militancy)?

A couple of technical points:

-reference is made to winter 1999-spring 2000. Bear in mind Argentina's in the southern hemisphere, so it may make better sense to avoid referring to northern hemisphere seasons if you don't wanna be seen as Eurocentric! Winter 1999-spring 2000 would be 15-16 months!

-"Don't get involved" would be "No te metas" (subjunctive innit)

-Also it should be "madres cuidadoras" not "cuidadores" (feminine innit).


6 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Worth cross referencing this text as the later section provides a brief summary of the recent history of class struggle in Argentina together with an interesting preliminary introduction to the politics of this Argentinian group publishing project:

From operaismo to autonomist Marxism

Aufheben review Steve Wright's book Storming heaven: class composition and struggle in Italian autonomist Marxism and Harry Cleaver's Reading "Capital" politically.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

Italy's 'Hot Autumn' of 1969 and 'Movement of 1977' were two of the high points of late 20th century revolutionary struggle. The recent publication of two books on workerism and autonomia testify to the continued interest in the theoretical development surrounding these events. Steve Wright's Storming Heaven presents a critical history of Italian workerism; and Harry Cleaver's Reading 'Capital' Politically has been influential as an account of the 'autonomist' tradition. The review of these two books gives us the opportunity for a critical reappraisal of the contributions of workerism. We suggest that Cleaver reproduces some of autonomia's problems as well as its useful theoretical tools. These problems include the inadequacy of the concept of autonomy for a class analysis; the absence of a critique of leftism; ambiguity over the 'law of value'; and an inability or unwillingness to theorize retreat. We also argue that Cleaver's 'political' reading of Capital lacks the analytical rigour needed to make the connections between the categories of Capital and the class struggle.

From Operaismo to 'Autonomist Marxism'

Review Article:
Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism by Steve Wright (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

Reading 'Capital' Politically (2nd edn.) by Harry Cleaver (Leeds: AK/Anti-thesis, 2000)

Harry Cleaver's reply is located here:

The Italian 'Hot Autumn' of 1969 was one of the high points of late 20th century revolutionary struggle, and is associated with operaismo ('workerism'), a Marxian approach that focused on rank-and-file struggles in contrast to what was seen as the politics and opportunism of the dominant (Stalinist) left. The wave of social struggles of that year was echoed, although with important differences, in the tumultuous 'Movement of 1977'. Under the banner of autonomia, the workerists' analysis of class struggle was extended through the actions of groups outside the workplace. Intense street-fighting, self-reduction or outright refusal of bills and fares, the explicit raising of radical demands such as the abolition of wage-labour: all this hinted at a movement for which what counts as 'political' had been seriously questioned by struggles around wider desires and needs. Readers will be aware of workerism and autonomia today through the works of its most well-known theorists, such as Negri, through the US journal Midnight Notes, and perhaps through the aut-op-sy website and discussion list.[1] For many of those dissatisfied with the versions of Marxism and anarchism available to them in the UK, the notions of 'autonomy' and 'autonomist' have positive associations. For example, the recent 'anti-capitalist' mobilizations of J18 and Seattle both drew on themes and language associated with autonomia, such as autonomous struggles and diversity.[2] However, the history and theory surrounding workerism and autonomia are not always well known. The recent publication of two books on operaismo and autonomia and their theoretical heritage testify to the continued interest in this current. Harry Cleaver's Reading 'Capital' Politically was originally published in 1979, and has now been republished, with a new preface. Cleaver's Introduction, in particular, has been a point of reference to many in grasping the significance of post-war developments, including struggles that don't necessarily express themselves in traditional forms. Steve Wright's Storming heaven presents a critical history of the Italian movement's political and theoretical development in relation to the struggles of the 1950s, '60s and '70s - a history which, we argue, now supersedes the Cleaver presentation.

The publication of these two books gives us the opportunity for a critical reappraisal of the contributions of operaismo and autonomia, and Cleaver's attempt to keep them alive. In particular, we will examine five issues. First, there is the question of whether the concept of 'autonomy' is adequate as a basis for a class analysis. Second, we argue that the workerists and hence those who have followed them suffered from a lack of an adequate critique of leftism and nationalism. Third, there is the issue of the ambiguity of those influenced by workerism in their account of the status of the 'law of value'. Fourth, the failure of workerism and of autonomia to theorize retreat in the class struggle can be linked to an implicit (or even explicit) satisfaction among some theorists in this tradition with the current limits of the class struggle. Finally, there is the question of whether the political reading of Marx's Capital offered by Cleaver actually works. We conclude that the defeat of the movements that sustained the development of workerism has led both to the abandonment of the project of world revolution and the ideologization of theory among theorists in this tradition.

1. Promise and limits of
an 'autonomist' class analysis

To understand the workerist and the subsequent 'autonomist Marxist' take on class we need to go back to the emergence of the current's key theoretical concepts.

1.1 Classical Workerism
The origins of operaismo lie in research carried out on workers' behaviour in the 1950s. The concern of the research was with workers' own needs and perceptions: their definitions of their problems on the shopfloor, and the nature of their struggles. Wright (p. 63) cites the following as the core features of the workerist perspective emerging from this research: the identification of the working class with the labour subsumed to the immediate process of production; an emphasis on the wage struggle as a key terrain of political conflict; and the insistence that the working class was the driving force within capitalist society.[3] All these features were a reaction against, and the basis for a developed alternative to, the productivist reformism and (bourgeois) politics of the traditional (Stalinist) left, i.e. the PCI (the Italian Communist Party, by far the largest Communist Party in Western Europe). For the PCI, 'politics' was conducted primarily through parliament (and the union bureaucracy). By contrast, in stressing the significance of workers' own struggles within industries, the workerists rejected the classical Leninist distinction between 'political' and 'economic' struggles.

Through relating workerist theory to the context of the struggles through which it emerged, Storming Heaven examines workerism's most well-known category - that of class composition, which Wright (p. 49) defines as the various behaviours which arise when particular forms of labour-power are inserted in specific processes of production. operaismo also introduced the concept of the mass worker, which describes the subject identified through the research on the FIAT and Olivetti factories. What characterizes the mass worker is its relatively simple labour; its place at heart of immediate process of production; and its lack of the bonds which had tied skilled workers to production (Wright, p. 107).

1.2. Workerism beyond workers
As Cleaver points out, the traditional Marxian analysis, and political practice, understands production and work itself as neutral. The aim is to take over the means of production, and run them 'in the interests of the workers', to the ends of a fairer distribution. However, the research on FIAT and Olivetti had shown that the division of labour, and the definition of skills, operated as a process of domination rather than being a technical matter. The workerists therefore proposed concepts intended to grasp this non-neutrality of factory organization and machinery. Particularly important here is the work of Panzieri, who had argued that, unlike the reformist Stalinists, the working class recognized the unity of the 'technical' and 'despotic' moments of the organization of production.[4] Such concepts pointed to the limitations of workers' self-management which could be seen to be merely the self-management of one's own domination.

Tronti developed this line of analysis with the notion of the social factory. The idea of the factory as locus of power was extended to the wider society as a whole which was seen to be organized around the same principles of domination and value (re)production.[5] The implication of this was that, since social organization in society is not neutral, then resistance outside the factory could be a valid moment of the class struggle.

Yet the emphasis on those (factory) workers in the immediate process of production meant that operaismo was caught in a tension if not a contradiction. Tronti and others were unable to reconcile their notion of the social factory with the emphasis they wanted to place on what happened in large factories: even as they pointed beyond the mass worker, workerists continued to privilege the role of the factory proletariat.

Autonomia (the 'area of autonomy'), a loose network of groupings including and influenced by radical workerists, emerged in the 1970s, following the collapse of some of the workerist groups. This new movement also saw the influx of a lot of younger people; they were often university educated or working in small manufacturing or the service sector. They characteristically emphasized the localized and personal over class-wide struggle, need over duty, and difference over homogeneity (Wright, p. 197). They thus sought to stretch the concept of class composition beyond the immediate labour-process in the factories. They were also less committed to totalizing concepts of class and to their workplace identities; and they had less time for the PCI and the unions. Some of these tendencies found theoretical expression in Bologna's seminal 'The Tribe of Moles'.[6]

The most controversial theoretical development in this period was Toni Negri's argument that the mass worker had been replaced by what he called the socialized worker (operaio sociale). Negri's thesis was that capital, while maintaining the firm as the heart of its valorization process, drives toward a greater socialization of labour, going beyond the simple extension of the immediate process of production towards a complete redefinition of the category of productive labour. The extent of this category, according to Negri, was now "relative to the level of the advancement of the process of subsumption of labour to capital... [W]e can now say that the concept of wage labourer and the concept of productive labourer tend towards homogeneity", with the resulting constitution of "the new social figure of a unified proletariat".[7] In short, all moments of the circulation process, and even reproduction, were seen to be productive of value; the distinction between productive and non-productive labour was obliterated. While Capital, volume 1, assumes the reproduction of labour-power in the form of the family and education, Negri's theoretical innovation was to focus on this as a locus of struggle. Negri suggested that, historically, there had been a shift in emphasis after the end of the 1960s whereby capital adopted a strategy to avoid exclusive dependence on the traditional working class and to rely more heavily on the labour-power of social groups who were, at that time, marginal and less organized.[8] Thus he and his followers looked to the organized unemployed, the women's movement, the practice of self-reduction and the increasing instances of organized looting that characterised the Movement of 1977 as valid moments of anti-capitalist practice; the revolutionary process was understood as a pluralism of organs of proletarian self-rule (Wright, p. 173). As Wright discusses, Negri's account was criticized as ultimately too abstract because it identified power as the dimension linking all the social groups and practices referred to as constituting the socialized worker; this emphasis had the effect of flattening out differences between the different groups and practices. The redefinition of the category of productive labour is problematic for the same reason. Moreover, it led Negri to draw over-optimistic conclusions as to the class composition resulting from the real subsumption of labour to capital. The 'socialized worker' also seemed to change over time. At first, the socialized worker characteristically referred to precarious workers; later, as Negri's perspective wavered with his disconnection from the movement, it was embodied in the 'immaterial worker', as exemplified by the computer programmer.[9]

The area of autonomy reached its zenith with the Movement of 1977. However, it wasn't just the well-documented massive state repression, in the form of violence and imprisonment, that led to the breaking of autonomia and the collapse of workerism. The development of autonomia and the emphasis on extra-workplace struggles went hand in hand with the isolation of the radical workerists from the wider working class. It was this isolation and hence pessimism in the possibility of a wider movement that led many ultimately to end up back in the PCI - or to join the armed groups.

1.3 Cleaver's account of the working class
One problem often raised against the communist project is that of the supposed disappearance of its agent - the working class. Marx's conception of revolution is said to be linked with a class structure that was disappearing. This was a particularly pressing issue at the time Cleaver originally wrote Reading 'Capital' Politically, with Gorz's Farewell to the Working Class and similar sociological analyses becoming fashionable. Cleaver offers a response to this by suggesting that the working class is just changing shape and is in fact everywhere.[10] For many of us, the most influential aspect of Harry Cleaver's Reading 'Capital' Politically is less his 'political' account of the relation between value and struggles (which we discuss below) than his Introduction, in which a history of movements and ideas is used to develop an 'autonomist' conceptualization of the working class in opposition to that of traditional Marxism as well as to those who wanted to argue that the working class was disappearing. (In fact, while Cleaver's book was photocopied and passed around by loads of people, most people we know only read the Introduction!)

Cleaver's class analysis can be seen to follow on from Tronti's concept of the social factory and Bologna's 'The Tribe of Moles'. Thus, in his account of developments in Italy, he suggests that the struggles of non-factory workers - predominantly women in this case - both embodied and clarified the new class composition (p. 71). 'Community' struggles around the self-reduction of rents and food and utility prices, he suggests, enabled these women participants to become more conscious of their own role in value-production. Hence their own autonomous activity could be grasped as an essential part of the class struggle, rather than being limited to the auxiliary role of supporting the wage-based struggles of their menfolk. Cleaver takes the Wages for Housework campaign as the highest expression of this development.

In the new preface to Reading 'Capital' Politically, Cleaver (pp. 16-17) elaborates on this account of the nature of class. Descriptively, an essential point here is the extension of the category of the working class to cover not only the waged but also the unwaged. Cleaver claims that this expanded definition is justified by historical research (e.g. Linebaugh's The London Hanged[11]) which, it is suggested, shows in the political culture of artisans and others that the working class predates the predominance of the wage. Conceptually, the crux of Cleaver's argument is in terms of a social group's exploitation by, and hence struggles against, capital. Moreover, the struggles of the social group as such, rather than their subsumption within a general working class struggle, are taken to be significant for their self-transformative potential. For Cleaver, the ability of such social groups to re-create themselves in struggle points to a problem with traditional (narrow) definitions of the working class, which said nothing about this self-re-creation.[12] In line with the tradition of autonomia, Cleaver's account recognizes resistance to capital as an inherent feature of the majority of humanity, rather than - as in sociological and some Marxist accounts of Western class structure - limited to the industrial proletariat.

Cleaver's account of an 'autonomist' tradition of struggles and theories was important for us, as for many people seeking an adequate account of class struggle in the 1980s and '90s. But, re-reading Cleaver's definition of the working class now, and in particular the social groups he seeks to include (as social groups) within this definition, leads us to argue that his account is not sufficient as a class analysis. The question is whether exploitation is a feature of the social group he refers to as such, and therefore whether resistance is inherent for the group as such. Our argument is that there are differences and distinctions that matter within and between the social categories that Cleaver identifies as part of the working class. Wright argues that operaismo and autonomia employ concepts which serve to flatten out and lose important differences and distinctions in class analysis. Our point is that Cleaver is heir to this tendency.

To flesh this argument out, let us consider each of the social categories that Cleaver wants to (re-)define as part of the working class.

Before doing so, however, we need to stress here the inadequacy of playing the game of treating classes as categories into which we place people. For us, class is not a form of stratification but a social relation; rather than attempting to classify people we need to understand how class is formed, as a process, within a relationship of antagonism.[13] It is true that individuals are situated differently with regards the fundamental social relation of how labour is pumped out of the direct producers (and that identities and perceptions of interests linked with these identities can form around these situations). But our argument with Cleaver's (re)classifications is inadequate in its own right, and needs to be read within a broader argument about class as a relation not (just) a stratum.

Cleaver states (p. 73):

The identification of the leading role of the unwaged in the struggles of the 1960s in Italy, and the extension of the concept [of working class political recomposition] to the peasantry, provided a theoretical framework within which the struggles of American and European students and housewives, the unemployed, ethnic and racial minorities, and Third World [sic] peasants could all be grasped as moments of an international cycle of working class struggle.

The unemployed
Organized unemployed struggles played a significant role in the Italian experience of the '70s - the Neapolitan movement for example was able to mobilize thousands of unemployed workers, becoming the region's central reference point for militant activity (Wright, p. 165). In these pages and in other publications, we have given much attention to such struggles, which for us are often over benefits, for the very simple reason that benefits are the other side of the coin of the working wage[14] (and because we ourselves have relied on benefits so much!). The unemployed are the lowest stratum of the proletariat - the most dispossessed - and are likely to have a background in the working class as such. In Capital, volume 1, Marx demonstrates that the unemployed are necessary to value-production. Since they are defined as a category by their relationship to the wage, the unemployed are obviously part of the working class. But Marx also makes clear how the unemployed function to instil discipline in those in work and hence put "a curb on their pretensions".[15] For traditional Marxism, the unemployed as such cannot play the same role as the industrial working class; they lack both the leverage and the potential for revolutionary class consciousness of those in work. In this perspective, unemployed struggles must necessarily be reduced to the role of tail-ending workers' strikes; any unemployed 'autonomy' could too easily take the form of scabbing.[16]

However, the functions of a social stratum for capital do not necessarily define the limits of the subjectivity associated with it. Historically, it has often been the least self-organized, or the least autonomous, among the unemployed who have scabbed. The unemployed are, among those Cleaver cites, the social group which can least controversially be defined as part of the working class.

In the case of 'race' and ethnicity, what is being referred to here by Cleaver is the construction by capital of divisions within the working class in order to create and justify competition amongst workers. To the extent that 'racial' and ethnic identities are constructed, working class organization itself is 'racialized' or 'ethnicized'. In other words, it is because racialization and ethnicity is part of way that class division is constructed and the working class decomposed that people might use 'racial' and ethnic identities as a basis for organizing against capital. Blacks and those other ethnic minorities who organize and resist autonomously do so because they, as a social stratum, experience class more harshly, and are more often located at the proletarian pole of the class relation; and this is because of the way 'blackness' and 'whiteness' have been socially constructed (in the USA). Those ethnic minorities which do not engage in such autonomous action tend to be those that are more socially mobile; i.e. in US terms they become 'white'.

Particularly in the USA,[17] blacks are atypical of ethnic and 'racial' groups: always at the bottom of the pile, even in relation to other ethnic minorities. Blacks are the prototype of the working class; and the black middle class is the exception that proves the rule.

The emergence of women as collective subjects of social change contributed to a reassessment of operaismo's class analysis (Wright, p. 133). In particular, women's demands for a universal social wage were seen to point to a solution to the limits of the over-emphasis on the working wage (Wright, pp. 123, 135). Some in autonomia, such as the Rosso group, began to talk of the emergence of a 'new female proletariat'; for them, along with the unemployed, feminists were seen as integral components of the new social subject - the 'socialized worker'.

Likewise, for Cleaver, women are a key example of a social category that, through their struggles, should be grasped as part of the working class - in particular 'housewives' demanding wages for their work of reproducing labour-power.[18] From our perspective, it is clear that it is working class women - defined here in terms of the class position of their family - who are more likely to be involved in such struggles. Better-off women are less likely to need and want the 'transitional demand' of a wage, and can achieve 'autonomy' individually (through pursuing a career) rather than needing to organize collectively. Moreover, the form through which women have challenged exploitative gender relations has varied historically. The identification and questioning of women's roles that emerged in the 1960s was part of a theorization and challenge to the reproduction of capitalist society more broadly, and hence tended to be expressed as a movement of social change. But, particularly since the retreat of the wider class struggle, feminism has instead tended to be an ideology justifying either a reduction of the political to the personal (with no link to social transformation) or a vehicle for middle class women's careerism. Without being grounded in - rather than trying to form the basis of - a class analysis, the emphasis of the struggles of women as women inevitably risks this dead-end.

Cleaver's inclusion of peasant struggles as part of the working class differentiates him from statements in classical workerism. Although the early workerists recognised that peasant struggles could contribute to working class internationalism, they also suggested that the two should not be confused, and that the 'salvation' of peasants ultimately lay with their counterparts in the more developed parts of the world (Wright, p. 66).

To state that peasant struggles are in effect working class struggles at least serves to convey something about the social location of the peasant in a capitalist world and the consequences of their actions for the broader class struggle. Despite not depending exclusively upon a wage, peasants' work is often commodified; the way they produce goods is subject to the demands of the world market. Hence some peasants' attempts in some sense to act like 'the working class' - i.e., collectively to resist capital's requirements.

But Cleaver's redefinition of 'peasants' as part of the wider working class glosses significant differences within this heterogeneous social category. The term 'peasant' covers a multitude of economic positions: there are varying degrees of communal relations, varying degrees of production for the market (versus for subsistence), varying extents to which some are moving towards the capitalist class, and varying degrees to which peasants engage in wage labour. It is for this reason that 'peasants' as such do not act like and therefore cannot simply be lumped in with a broad working class.

Even if we take it that Cleaver simply means the majority of peasants who have no chance of becoming capitalist farmers, there is nevertheless a logic to their struggles which characteristically prevents them from constituting themselves as the negation of capital. The peasant is defined by a relationship to the land, and land is characteristically the issue over which peasants struggle. Given this, the successes of peasant struggles are also their limits. In the case of the wage, a quantitative success (more money) preserves the qualitative relationship of alienation but can point to its supersession: victory is still unsatisfactory but any setback for the capitalist class may suggest the vulnerability of the capital relation itself. But a victory in a struggle over land is an end in itself which thereby impels no higher level of struggle. There is no essential imperative in land struggles to abolish land ownership itself. As we argued in a previous issue of Aufheben, while we might acknowledge the revolutionary subjectivity of peasant-based struggles such as that of the Chiapas Indians, the peasant condition entails a conservative stability in social relations. Peasant resistance tends to reflect external threat rather than internal class antagonism. Consequently, the form of that resistance may often entail alliances between small private farmers and those who depend on communal landholdings - or even between a peasant mass and a leftist-nationalist and urban-based leadership.[19] Thus, we do not see the resolution of 'the agrarian (i.e., peasant) problem' simply in 'autonomous' peasant struggles, nor, obviously, in the proletarianization of the peasantry; rather, with Marx[20] (and Camatte),[21] we might look to a revolution in which peasant communal possibilities are aided by a wider proletarian uprising at the heart of capitalist power.

For workerist groups such as Potere Operaio (Workers' Power), student struggles had to be subordinated to those of factory workers. But student movements were a part of both the Hot Autumn of 1969 and the Movement of 1977, and were important for workerism's attempt to theorize the proletarianization of intellectual labour.[22] One of the interesting developments of the Hot Autumn was the appropriation of a faculty building at the Turin Medical College for the purpose of a permanent general assembly.[23] The 1977 Movement involved practical attempts to link workers and students both organizationally and in terms of demands such as the generalized wage, which was seen as a way of enabling more working class young people access to university.

Cleaver's categorization of students as part of the working class might be seen as somewhat prescient since the gulf between university students and others in the labour market has narrowed in recent years. As more students gain degrees, so the value of the degree decreases and the jobs that graduates go into may often be no more privileged or well-paid than those of their more basically-educated counterparts. Graduate unemployment is higher now than ever.

However, these are only tendencies. Students are overwhelmingly middle class in terms of their family background (income, values and expectations) and their destinations. In line with the notion of the social factory, Cleaver deals with such considerations by defining students' education as work to reproduce the commodity of labour-power.[24] But their work as students is more than, and different from, the simple reproduction of just any labour-power. In the first place, the end product of the work of the university student isn't necessarily skills at all but rather a qualification, the point of which is just to provide access to more privileged occupations. What is being reproduced, therefore, is hierarchy within the workforce - a division of labour to enhance competition. This process is also ideological to the extent that its beneficiaries internalize and identify with the resultant hierarchical division - believing that they deserve their privilege, and that only a talented and hard-working minority can achieve their kind of status. Second, the 'skills' that are reproduced through university education are not only those of supervision and management, but also (for those graduating in the humanities and social sciences) those of classifying, bullshitting and playing a role - all of which don't make sense outside of alienated social relations.

In focusing on autonomy and its possible consequences for capital, Cleaver's redefinition of student struggles as working class therefore loses some important features of this social category.[25] It is an overly cynical point of view, perhaps, to state that 'student radicals' mostly end up pursuing the same well-paid establishment careers as their parents; but the moment of truth in such a claim lies in the fact that there is no equivalent expectation for young working class radicals mostly to end up becoming managers! Unlike students, the young working class (in working class jobs) don't usually have the same choice.

Whatever happened to the middle class?
The 'middle class' is a label largely absent from Reading 'Capital' Politically, which is because for Cleaver it largely doesn't exist, except perhaps sociologically. The 'autonomist Marxist' argument seems to be that, in conditions of the 'social factory', the middle classes are just a sector of the working class.

On the one hand, Cleaver's analysis again reflects real tendencies. In a number of domains, middle class work has been de-skilled and proletarianized. Casualization, once limited only to working class jobs, has now come to many in the middle classes. Moreover, many salaries, particularly in the public sector, have increasingly lost value over the past 20 years or so. At the same time, the salaries of those at the top end of the middle classes, and particularly in the private sector (e.g., accountants, lawyers and the various types of 'consultant'), have continued to rise. Hence, as a shared identity assumed by people whose conditions vary widely - from white-collar workers in insecure jobs with salaries lower than their blue-collar counterparts, to executives and senior managers - the 'middle class' as a whole is to say the least a problematic category if not a mystification. In the USA, Cleaver's home country, the term is even more problematic due to the (self)description of large sections of the (white) working class as 'middle class'.

On the other hand, to take these disjunctions, anomalies and tendencies to mean that the category 'middle class' can be dispensed with is one-sided. The analytic subsumption of most of the middle classes within the working class is one-sided because it loses the explanatory power of the middle class as a category.

Here again, we would argue, Cleaver's analysis reflects the limits of the approach he is heir to. As Wright argues, for all its vital contributions to our understanding of struggle, one of the problems with autonomia and operaismo more broadly is the way it misrepresents one tendency as standing for the totality. In the same way, Cleaver misrepresents a particular tendency as a characteristic of the class situation as a whole.

While tendencies to proletarianization might push many of the middle classes toward throwing in their lot with the working class, there are other features of the middle class condition as such which operate in the other direction. What is absent from Cleaver's class analysis is an acknowledgement of the ties that bind the middle class individual to his role or class position and hence to the alienated world that gives rise to that role and class position.

One feature which distinguishes the middle class from the working class, and which has consequences for the possibility of revolutionary practice and subjectivity, is the presence or absence of a career structure. While wages in working class occupations typically rise to a relatively early peak and then plateau off, middle class salaries more typically develop in continual increments within which the middle class individual can foresee a future of continually rising income and enhanced status. In effect, the longer she carries on and sticks to the job, the relatively less interest the middle class individual has in escaping since the greater comfort the job provides him or her. Because the working class job typically provides no such prospect, the imperative to escape remains a lifespan constant.

Second, while pride in one's role can arise in many types of occupation, middle class jobs often engender an identification of a type which is characteristically absent in the case of working class jobs. Such middle class identification has consequences for the form taken by resistance - and for whether resistance takes place at all. The academic, social worker, lawyer etc. may wish to attack capital but they characteristically do so by premising their resistance on the continued existence of their own role in a way unthinkable to the working class individual. Thus there are radical psychologists, radical philosophers, radical lawyers and so on,[26] but not radical bricklayers or radical roadsweepers! The latter are simply radical people who wish to escape their condition. By contrast, the former wish to engage in the struggle while at the same time retaining their middle class identities, including their specialized skills and roles. As such, their participation presupposes rather than fundamentally challenges the institutions and social relations that provide the basis of these identities.[27] It is no coincidence, it seems to us, that the leading figures of a post-autonomia scene which rejects (or at least neglects) the situationists' critique of roles and academia, and which redefines all areas of life - including academia - as working class, are themselves academics.[28]

Some groups, such as the professionals - doctors, lawyers, academics - who retain control of entry into their profession, should obviously be defined as middle class. But there are other groups for which the situation is less clear-cut. For the most part dealing with the thorny issue of class, and in particular the status of the middle classes, is inevitable messy. This is because class is a process not a box into which we can simply categorize people, as in sociology.[29] In Argentina, for example, we are seeing a process where middle class identity breaks down; but to understand this it is necessary to recognise that such an identity exists and has a material basis. As we see it, the problem with the way Cleaver flattens out everything into the working class is precisely the absence of class composition and decomposition as a process. Class (composition) involves a constant dynamic of proletarianization and 'embourgeoisment'. But if these poles are not recognized - and if the middle classes are understood as already working class - class composition appears only as a static given.

1.4 Autonomy as basis or function of working class composition?
As we have seen, Cleaver's fundamental point is that the unwaged, and hence the other social categories he refers to, are part of the working class only insofar as capital has sought to exploit and alienate their unwaged labour or particular condition, and since these unwaged and other categories are now fighting back against capital. It is their struggle not their social category membership as such that makes them part of the working class. Thus the key for Cleaver is autonomous action against capital.

As such, Cleaver is again consistent with the tradition that has come out of workerism, which sought to distinguish itself and go beyond the poverty of traditional Marxism through focusing on precisely the independent or autonomous activity of workers in struggle; their collective activity and organization of resistance was shown to occur without the mediation of the party or union - or even in opposition to them. Antagonism itself, in the form of autonomy, was thus the basis of class analysis.

In the sixties, the workerists subsumed the specificity of different working class locations and experiences to those of the mass worker. In the seventies, Negri's work threatened to dissolve even this partially concrete understanding of class into a generic proletariat, the 'socialized worker'. Bologna in 'The tribe of moles' identified new subjective determinations of class: "Classes have tended to lose their 'objective' characteristics and become defined in terms of political subjectivity".[30] For Bologna, questions of social and cultural identity, of acceptance or refusal to accept the norms of social behaviour required by the state, now played a role in the reproduction of classes. These new determinants were said to be evidenced in "the continuous reproduction and invention of systems of counter-culture and struggle in the sphere of everyday living, which has become ever more illegal".

In fact, Negri and others abandoned the central investigative approach of the workerists - that of examining the relationship between 'material conditions of exploitation' and 'political behaviours'. As Wright discusses, the radical workerists overemphasized the subjective, the "will of destruction" (Potere Operaio, 1972, cited in Wright, p. 138), as judged, post festum, from an analysis of the struggle rather than location in the labour process. The abandonment of the material determinants of class composition leaves unresolved the question of how the different subjects, or strata of the class, recognize themselves and each other as proletariat, the universal revolutionary class.

For us, the reason why different groups organize autonomously against capital is because they are already proletarian (or, at least, being proletarianized). Antagonism arises because of class. It is implicit in our arguments above in relation to the different social categories referred to by Cleaver that the possibility of 'autonomy' may be necessary but it is not sufficient for a class analysis. 'Autonomy' requires, and therefore cannot be the basis of, a proper class analysis: the subjective requires the objective.

2. Beyond leftism?[31]

It was a vital insight of workerism to see workers' refusal to participate in union-sponsored token strikes not as the absence of class conflict but as evidence of their autonomy. In debates today about the state of the class struggle, the danger is to take such 'passivity' as just a refusal of representation when it might in fact be doubled-edged: at the same time as being an expression of hostility to capital it might also entail a paralysing fatalism. However, a weakness of workerism was not an exaggerated sense of the significance of workers' autonomous antagonism not only to capital but to the institutional left; rather it was an unwillingness or inability to reconcile their insights with their conceptions of organization. Time and again, the same theorists who provided us with the theoretical tools for a new approach caution us to be modest in our understandings of workers' struggles. For example, Panzieri stressed that sabotage merely expressed workers' political defeat (Wright, p. 61); and Classe Operaia ('Working Class') suggested that spontaneous struggles were not enough (Wright, p. 69). While we agree that different particular struggles need to be linked up if they are to go beyond themselves, there is a crucial question of the nature of this organization and how it may arise. For the most part, the workerists tended to fetishize formal organizational structure in a way which reflected their Leninist origins.

In the first place, there was for a long time an unwillingness to cut the ties to the PCI. Thus, Tronti continued to argue for the necessity of working within the PCI in order to 'save' it from reformism. Tronti was not typical and ultimately abandoned workerism; but Potere Operaio too maintained links with the PCI until the events of France 1968, and even then still saw itself as Leninist. And Negri, despite having written about the contradiction within autonomia between those who privileged 'the movement' and the champions of a 'Leninist' conception of organization, affirmed his commitment to the necessity of the Leninist Party even during the events of 1977 (Wright, p. 214).

In part, autonomia emerged as a grouping of militants who felt the need to criticize Leninist forms of organization and practice (including the formal party structure), placing emphasis instead on class needs: "To articulate such needs, organization was to be rooted directly in factories and neighbourhoods, in bodies capable both of promoting struggles managed directly by the class itself, and of restoring to the latter that 'awareness of proletarian power which the traditional organisations have destroyed'" (Comitati Autonomi Operai, 1976, cited in Wright p. 153). Ultimately, however, as Bologna argued, autonomia failed in this regard, reverting to a vanguardism which forgot that "organisation is obliged to measure itself day by day against the new composition of the class; and must find its political programme only in the behaviour of the class and not in some set of statutes."[32]

Despite their attempt to escape the 'political', the workerists themselves were in fact caught up in a politicism, in that they both constantly tried to express the social movement's needs in terms of unifying political demands and were forever trying to reinvent the party. Although they innovated in some ways, with ideas like the armed party, their conception of organization remained Leninist in its fetishism of formal organizational structure, and showed little sense of Marx's quite different conception of the (historical) party.[33] As such, a proper critique of the left and of leftism was still not developed. This problem is reproduced in current versions of the workerist approach.

Our argument is that, if the concept of autonomy is insufficient for a class analysis, it is also inadequate - in the sense of being too open or ambiguous - for a critique of leftism. Whose 'autonomous struggle' is it? The emphasis on autonomy itself, and the consequent absence of an adequate critique of the left, has meant that some of the inheritors of the tradition are uncritical of nationalism.[34]

Cleaver (p. 25) states "The [Vietnam] antiwar movement joined many of these diverse struggles, and its linkage with the peasants of Southeast Asia became complete with the slogan of 'Victory to the NLF [National Liberation Front]' and with the flying of Vietcong flags from occupied campus buildings." In relation to this, the idea of 'circulation of struggles', which refers to how struggle in one area inspires that in another, certainly described something of the social movements of the '60s and '70s (though we'd also have to acknowledge the reverse process whereby defeat of one section after another discouraged the rest). But such a concept is inadequate in itself if it means, for example, that the struggles of the Vietnamese peasants are considered without referring to the nationalist and Stalinist frame in which they took place, and if it means treating uncritically the way that an anti-imperialist ideology dominated the minds of the students (i.e. they tended to see the western proletariat as irretrievably 'bought off' and themselves as a front for the 'Third World').[35] Harry Cleaver's 'autonomist Marxist' treatment of leftists and nationalists is reflected currently in his uncritical attitude to the Zapatistas.[36] In Cleaver's texts there isn't a proper critique of the role of leftism and nationalism in struggles because such expressions are considered - equally with the struggles of 'housewives', students, the unemployed and the industrial proletariat - moments of autonomy to the extent that they appear to challenge the capitalist strategy of imposing work within particular national and international frameworks. Any criticism of nationalism in struggles, as in the case of Zapatistas, is dismissed by him as ideological or dogmatic.

Given their necessary antipathy to the project of the negation of capital, the 'autonomy' of leftist and nationalist tendencies must mean their subsumption and indeed crushing of proletarian autonomy! This analytic gap, through which the forces inherently opposed to working class self-organization can emerge as equivalents to that working class self-organization, appears to be a function of the failure of the autonomia tendency to make quite the radical break from Leninism which is sometimes claimed for it, and which Cleaver has inherited (despite the fact that, unlike Negri, he has never endorsed any party). At its worst, far from being an alternative to a leftism in which political representation and nationalism are supported as vehicles of 'revolution', 'autonomist Marxism' can end up being just another variety of such uncritical leftism. While they may reject the idea of the formal party, the 'autonomists' still seek to formulate political demands for autonomous struggles in a similar way to the leftists.

3. Negotiating the 'law of value'

A further workerist tension reproduced in Cleaver's book is that surrounding the status of the 'law of value'. On the one hand, the very emphasis on workers at the sharp end of the immediate process of production appears to speak of a commitment to the centrality of value-production in the explanation of the dynamic of class struggle. On the other hand, the seeds of a revisionist approach were sewn as early as 1970, when Potere Operaio argued that class struggle had broken free of the bounds of accumulation; the mass worker was said to have disrupted the functioning of the law of value, forcing capital to rely more and more on the state (p. 137). Potere Operaio cited the Hot Autumn as the turning point, but their analysis was prompted by a revolt in the second half of 1970 among the population of Reggio Calabria against proposed changes to the city's regional status which seemed to speak of a widespread violent rejection of the institutions. This line of reasoning was developed by Negri, who was led by his understanding of the crisis as a product of class antagonism to argue that the law of value was being superseded by relations of direct political confrontation between classes,[37] and that money now needed to be understood in terms of its function as 'command'.[38] Subsequent to this, a distinctive feature of those influenced by the autonomia tradition is the stress on the class struggle as a struggle not in relation to value but for control over work: imposing it or resisting it.

A major thrust of the whole American 'autonomist' scene has been to argue not to follow Negri too far. But it seems to us that Cleaver's attempt to both embrace certain post-autonomia and 'heretical' ideas that go 'beyond Marx' while at the same time claiming fidelity to Capital gives rise to ambiguities in relation to this question of value.

Thus, on the one hand, Reading 'Capital' Politically suggests, at least in a footnote, that control is always tied to value; and in the second edition of the book, against those ('autonomists') who forget, Cleaver re-iterates that the labour theory of value is the "indispensible core" of Marx's theory (p. 11). On the other hand, throughout Reading 'Capital' Politically, food and energy (Cleaver's main examples) appear essentially as means to struggle for control itself rather than value-producing sectors; and work appears as a means of control in its own right:

the ultimate use-value of the work, which is the use-value of labour-power, is its role as the fundamental means of capitalist social control. For the capitalist to be able to impose work is to retain social control. But the use-value of labour-power for capital is also its ability to produce value and surplus-value. (p. 100)

The use of the word 'also' seems indicative of the relative weighting given to control over value as an explanation for the dynamics of class struggle.

We accept that, although capital essentially treats all use-values as arbitrary sources for valorization, capital cannot be unconcerned with the particularities of use-values. Thus Cleaver is right, for example, to point back to the moment of primitive accumulation where capital creates the working class by driving peasants off the land and thus their source of food. Moreover, with contemporary features like the Common Agricultural Policy and similar measures in other countries, it is true that the special use-value of food (and the political significance of classes engaged in food production) has led to it being perhaps more subject to strategic planning measures by capital-in-general in the form of the state and supranational bodies.

Retrospectively, however, it now appears to us that the politicization of the prices of food and energy - their appearance as manipulated instruments of struggle between self-conscious capitalist and working class subjects - was a particular feature of the crisis conditions of the 1970s (e.g. the energy crisis and the focus on inflation state intervention in bargaining between the working class and capital). Cleaver, like others in the post-autonomia tradition, uses these historically specific moments in the class struggle to make generic points. In the present period, there has been a 'depoliticization' of these price issues in conditions of low inflation; and the ideological model has been that 'there is no alternative' to the 'globalized' market.

As we have argued in these pages before, there is a problem with the abandonment of the law of value by theorists identifying with autonomia.[39] On our reading of Marx, and our understanding of capital, capital as a whole comes to constitute itself as such out of disparate and indeed conflicting elements. The conceptualization of capital as a subject in conflict with the working class subject, each with their distinctive strategies ('imposition of work' versus 'refusal of work'), which Cleaver ultimately shares with Negri,[40] if taken as more than a shorthand or metaphor, suggests an already-unified capital. Capital as a subject can have a strategy only to the extent that there is a (price-fixing) conspiracy among the different capitals or that one particular capital (who? US capital? The World Bank?) agrees to act as capital-in-general in the same way that a national government acts for the national capitalist interest. Capital as a totality of course has its interests; but these - all founded on the need to exploit the working class as hard as possible - arise from and operate precisely through its conflicting elements: the competition between individual capitals. Capital may attain more consciousness at times of heightened class conflict, and this consciousness may become institutionalized. But capital is not essentially a conscious subject.

4. Grasping retreat

Tronti famously argued that each successful capitalist attack upon labour only displaces class antagonism to a higher, more socialized level (Wright, p. 37). Following this, Negri, Cleaver and others in and influenced by the autonomia current stress the role of working class struggle in driving capital forward. Working class activity is seen not (just) as a response to the initiatives of capital but as the very motor of capitalist development - the prime mover.[41] In this account, capitalist crisis - the shutting down of industries, mass unemployment and austerity - means that working class struggle simply changes form rather than retreats. Class struggle is argued to be ubiquitous and manifold in form.

This perspective therefore offers a valuable corrective to traditional Marxism's objectivist account of the workings of capital. Traditional Marxism's frozen and fetishized conceptions of class struggle could lead one to wonder where resistance has gone and whether it will ever reappear. By contrast, 'autonomist Marxism' finds it everywhere.

However, we would suggest that workerism in general and Cleaver in particular perhaps bend the stick too far the other way. In arguing that class struggle is 'everywhere' and 'always', there is the explanatory problem of the evidence of historical retreats in class struggle, as well as the 'political' problem of responding to this retreat in practice. These problems are linked.

4.1 Confronting the evidence of decomposition
In positing the 'unity of abstract labour' as the basis for the recomposition of the class, Negri almost welcomed the 'disappearance' of the mass worker and believed the defining moment of confrontation was approaching: "At the very moment when 'the old contradiction' seemed to have subsided, and living labour subsumed to capital, the entire force of insubordination coagulates in that final front which is the antagonistic and general permanence of social labour".[42] At a time which could arguably be characterized as the beginning of capital's counter-offensive of restructuring which resulted in a decomposition of the class, he gave an account of a massive process of recomposition - a qualitative leap in class unity. Wright (p. 167) concludes that this account did not match up to Italian experience of the time. There appears little evidence of the concrete unification between sectors upon which Negri's whole argument rested; the fierce industrial struggles in the small factories of the North were cut off from other sectors of the class. Wright suggests that, in 1975-6, it was proletarian youth circles rather than the factory struggles that were making links across the wider working class. The workers of the large factories were in a state of 'productive truce' at best, rampant defeat at worst - and subordinate to the official labour movement, which had regained control in the factories after the explosion of autonomous struggles in 1969 and the years after. The unions' commitment to tailor labour's demands to the requirements of accumulation was mirrored in the political sphere by the PCI's 'historic compromise' with the ruling Christian Democrats. The historic left, PCI and CGIL were committed to the 'management' of the nation's economic difficulties.

Bologna (1976, cited in Wright, pp. 170-1) accused Negri and autonomia of "washing their hands of the mass worker's recent difficulties". He argued that there had been a "reassertion of reformist hegemony over the factories, one that is brutal and relentless in its efforts to dismember the class left". Negri had failed to come to terms with the disarray and defeat of the mass worker and preferred instead to "ply the traditional trade of the theorist in possession of some grand synthesis". The Comitati Autonomi Operai, the Roman wing of autonomia, also rejected Negri's optimistic vision, and criticized his lack of an empirical basis for his abstractions, something which had been so important to the earlier workerists.[43]

In the intervening quarter of a century, little has happened, it seems to us, to bear out Negri's optimistic prognosis. The mass worker has been decomposed through the flexibilization of labour, territorial disarticulation of production, capital mobility in the world market, the rationalization of production, decentralization; but the 'socialized worker' that has supposedly emerged from the ashes of the mass worker has not been visible as a new universal proletariat capable of fundamentally challenging the capital relation. Decomposition just is decomposition sometimes, rather than necessarily being itself a recomposition.

The 'autonomist Marxism' of Cleaver and those close to his perspective argues that we need to acknowledge the validity of diverse and 'hidden' struggles (absenteeism, theft at work, various forms of work to rule etc.) which are alive and well, despite the decline of the older forms of overt collective resistance.[44] There is, of course, always resistance to the specific way in which surplus-labour is pumped out of the direct producers. However, the fact that the working class currently tends to resist in a mostly fragmented and individualized form - the fact that resistance is so fragmented or hidden - reflects the historic weakness of the class as a whole. The significance of this is that it is not clear how such hidden and individualized forms of resistance can in themselves necessarily take us to the point of no return. Unless they become overtly collective, they operate merely as a form of antagonism that capital can cope with if not recuperate. This is the moment of truth in Tronti and Panzieri's warnings about the limits of autonomous struggle.

4.2 Escaping the harness?
Linked to this issue of retreat is the question of whether the working class will be driving capital forward forever. Do the 'autonomists' argue too successfully that class struggle is the motor? If working class struggle is always harnessed by capital, how does it escape the harness?

The argument that class struggle is alive and well in manifold forms is empowering; but it risks ending up as a satisfaction with the current limits of the class struggle. The focus on the validity and importance of the (plurality of) autonomous struggles themselves can mean the abandonment of revolution as a totality. And as the possibility and necessity of total revolution fades, so reformist campaigns, premised upon the continued existence of the capital relation, become the focus. A symptom of this worst side of post-autonomia is illustrated in demands for a guaranteed income, which have allowed those influenced by autonomia to link up with other reformists in campaigns which have dovetailed with capital's current needs for welfare restructuring.[45] Although not all the major figures of autonomia or the 'autonomist Marxist' scene would endorse this ultimately conservative view of the adequacy of fragmentation, it is not inconsistent with an understanding of class struggle based around the concept of autonomy.

5. A political reading of Capital:
From 20 yards of linen to the
self-reduction of prices in one easy step

In his attempt to render a political reading of Marx's critique of political economy, Harry Cleaver is again following in the workerist tradition: Negri's 'Marx on cycle and crisis', which was written in 1968, is an earlier example of the attempt to connect Marx's categories with notions of strategy and struggle. However, a sub-text of Cleaver's book is his defence of the importance of Capital against the arguments made by (the later) Negri that, for the revolutionary project of our time, Capital is superseded by the Grundrisse. In Marx beyond Marx,[46] Negri argues that Capital has served to reduce critique to economic theory, that the objectification of the categories in Capital functions to block action by revolutionary subjectivity and to subject the subversive capacity of the proletariat to the reorganizing and repressive intelligence of capitalist power. The point of Marx's critique as whole is not 'intellectual' but revolutionary; hence the Grundrisse, which is traversed throughout by an absolutely insurmountable antagonism, is, according to Negri, the key text and can even serve as a critique of the limits of Capital.

Cleaver's Reading 'Capital' Politically argues that the right way to read Capital and its fundamental categories such as value is 'strategically', from the perspective of the working class. Cleaver therefore contends that any 'blockage' is due only to the inadequate ways in which Capital has been read, and that the solution is to read it politically.

We can agree with Cleaver that, despite the power of the Grundrisse and its crucial indications that Marx's theoretical project was wider than the material which appears in Capital,[47] Capital is nevertheless the better presentation of the critique of political economy (as Marx himself clearly thought). But this is not the same as arguing that a 'political' reading of Capital is useful or even tenable. Our argument is that Cleaver's 'political' reading ultimately fails.

5.1 Aims of Reading 'Capital' Politically
The focus of Reading 'Capital' Politically is the first three parts of Chapter 1 of Capital, volume 1. Here, Marx shows how the commodity has two aspects - use-value (a product of the concrete useful labour that creates that particular commodity) and value (a representation of that labour considered as general abstract labour); he shows how value must take different forms; and from this he derives the logical necessity of money as the universal equivalent form of value. Along with the chapter on money, these are undeniably some of the most difficult parts of Capital. While a lot of the rest of the book is fairly straightforward, this beginning is often enough to make the reader turn away in frustration. Thus it is worth acknowledging the merit of Cleaver's attempt at an accessible commentary.

The central thesis of Cleaver's reading is that the category of value, in its various forms (and aspects), needs to be related to class struggles around human needs - to the subjective - rather than (simply) to the objective workings of capital as a 'system'. In Cleaver's words, to read Capital politically is "to show how each category and relationship relates to and clarifies the nature of the class struggle and to show what that means for the political strategy of the working class" (p. 76). Cleaver's attempt to render the subjective in Marx's account of value operates by short-circuiting most of Marx's mediations, leaping directly from the commodity-form to particular struggles. He relates the material in Capital, Chapter 1, partly to later material in the same volume over the struggle for the working day and primitive accumulation, but most of all to more contemporary struggles - around energy and food prices - in a way clearly distinct from Marx's own method.[48] He justifies this by saying "to the extent then that I bring to bear on the interpretation of certain passages material from other parts of Capital, or from other works, I do so with the aim of grasping Chapter One within the larger analysis rather than reconstructing the evolution of what Marx wrote and thought" (p. 94, second edition).

5.2 Aims of Capital
A question Cleaver does not address is why is was that Marx said very little about struggles in Volume 1, Chapter 1. If it is so necessary to read Capital politically in the way that Cleaver does, then why didn't Marx save us the trouble and simply write Capital politically? In promoting Capital as a weapon for our struggles, Cleaver wants to stress the moments of de-reification and de-fetishization in relation to Marx's categories. Indeed he claims that this project of a political reading "is exactly the project called for in Marx's discussion of fetishism" (p. 76). Thus for Cleaver there is no need for a "separate analysis of Section 4 of Chapter One which deals with fetishism, simply because ... this whole essay involves going behind the appearances of the commodity-form to get at the social relations" (p. 80). Cleaver is right that the section on fetishism is crucial for "getting at the social relations"; but why did Marx insist on the type of presentation he does despite the possible difficulty it entailed for his intended audience, the working class? Moreover is Cleaver's kind of political reading really the way to understand what Marx deals with as commodity fetishism?

An interesting comparison is Isaak Rubin's Essays on Marx's Theory of Value,[49] which Cleaver mentions only briefly and dismissively, in a footnote.[50] While Cleaver does not comment directly on the section in Capital, Chapter 1, on fetishism, the whole first part of Rubin's book is on this subject. Rubin's book was seminal precisely for systematically grasping the inseparability of commodity fetishism and Marx's theory of value: "The theory of fetishism is, per se, the basis of Marx's entire economic system, and in particular of his theory of value" (Rubin, 1973, p. 5). Thus the value categories are expressions of a topsy-turvy world in which people's products dominate the producers, where people are related through things, and where objects behave as subjects and subjects as objects. Since Rubin's book became available in the English-speaking world through Fredy Perlman's translation, a whole school of Marxism has developed, insisting like Rubin does that Marx's is not a neo-Ricardian embodied labour theory of value but an abstract social labour theory of value;[51] such an analysis brings fetishism to the fore and emphasises Marx's work as a critique of political economy rather than Marxist political economy.

Thus Rubin can be seen to make similar points to Cleaver but to do so by explaining and illustrating value-categories in terms of such basic mediations as social relations, labour and commodity fetishism, rather than through the directly political reading favoured by Cleaver.

Moreover, the case of Rubin questions the schema Cleaver develops in his Introduction, summarized in the following table:

Ideological Readings Strategic readings
Political economy readings From capital's perspective From capital's perspective
Philosophical readings From capital's perspective Empty set
Political readings Empty set From a working class perspective

Approaches to the reading of Marx (Cleaver, p. 31)

Cleaver (p. 30) defines the bottom right box of this table as:

that strategic reading of Marx which is done from the point of view of the working class. It is a reading that self-consciously and unilaterally structures its approach to determine the meaning and relevance of every concept to the immediate development of working-class struggle. It is a reading which eschews all detached interpretation and abstract theorising in favour of grasping concepts only within that concrete totality of struggle whose determinations they designate. This I would argue is the only kind of reading of Marx which can properly be said to be from a working-class perspective because it is the only one which speaks directly to the class's needs for clarifying the scope and structure of its own power and strategy.

Though the Stalinist state recognized the political significance of Rubin's 'abstract reasoning',[52] Rubin's book does not meet Cleaver's 'political' criteria. But neither does Rubin's book seem to be obviously a political economic or a philosophical reading. We'd contend that one of the reasons that Rubin's is a seminal work is precisely because it transcends such a distinction. Prompted by the revolutionary wave of the 1910s and 1920s, Rubin, like writers of the same period such as Lukács and Korsch, was able to go beyond Second International Marxism and to understand Capital as a critique of political economy - but without, like the Frankfurt School, retreating into mere philosophy.

The fourth part of Capital, Chapter 1, 'The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret', is crucial because in it Marx shows how the forms of value are an expression of reification, and hence fetishized in our experience. Rubin's approach is key for drawing one's attention to the inseparability of fetishism and the theory of value. By trying to short-circuit the process, by immediately moving to the de-fetishising aspect of class struggle, Cleaver jumps levels of abstraction. Our argument would be that, analytically, it is necessary to explain reification before examining its reversal. In other words, in order to relate value to the kind of struggles Cleaver refers to, a whole series of mediations must be developed,[53] not least the categories of absolute and relative surplus-value, constant and variable capital, and the relation between price and value (which Marx introduces later in Volume 1), circulation (which Marx introduces in Volume 2) and the distributional forms of surplus value - profit, rent and wages (which don't come until Volume 3). Volume 1 concerns capital-in-general, presented as particular examples of capitalist enterprises as an analytic device to derive the later, more developed, categories.

For us it seems essential to grasp what Marx was trying to do in Capital. If Marx's overall project was 'capitalism and its overthrow' it was nevertheless necessary for him first to show what the capitalist mode of production was, how it was possible; this led him methodologically to make a provisional closure of class subjectivity in order to grasp the logic of capital as an objective and positive system of economic 'laws' which is apparently independent of human will and purpose.[54] Objectivist Marxism takes this provisional closure as complete. What Cleaver is doing could be seen to be an attempt at opening up the provisional closure by bringing in the subjectivity of class struggle; but because he does not properly explain the marginalization of the class struggle in the pages of Capital, what he does comes across as bald assertion at variance with the flow of Marx's argument.

In short, in his understandable quest for the concrete and immediate, Cleaver abandons the analytic rigour needed to make the connections between Capital and the class struggle. While we may agree that Capital needs to be understood as a weapon in the class war, it does not need to be the crudely instrumental reading offered by Cleaver.

6. Whither autonomia?

6.1 Negri and the retreat from the universal revolutionary subject
The continuing influence of operaismo and autonomia is evident today in a number of recent movements, most notably perhaps Ya Basta! in Italy, who draw upon some of the ideas of Negri. Negri himself has lately caused interest in some circles. Empire, the book he has co-authored with Michael Hardt,[55] has struck a chord with the concerns of some 'anti-capitalist'/'globalization' activists, academics and even a New Labour policy adviser.[56] While Negri's ideas were sometimes controversial when he was part of the area of autonomy, after losing his connections to the movement he ceased to produce worthwhile stuff, and instead slipped into an academic quagmire whose reformist political implications are all too clear.[57] The disconnection of ideas from the movement, following the repression which culminated in the mass arrests of 1979, has also meant that there has been to some extent a battle for the heritage of the movement. Through journals like Zerowork and Midnight Notes, Anglo-American theorists have kept 'autonomist Marxism' going. Through emphasizing the continuing importance of value (albeit ambiguously, as we have seen), these and Harry Cleaver among others have distinguished themselves from the late Negri with his embrace of both post-structuralism and the ideas of the (pre-Hegelian) philosopher Spinoza.

But - and despite his innumerable self-contradictions - a continuity can be traced from the early Negri, through autonomia to the late Negri. For example, his recent arguments, along with other reformists, for a guaranteed income can be traced back to the demand for a 'political wage' made by the radical Negri of Potere Operaio. It would seem to be significant that, despite his earlier valuable insights, his relatively recent theoretical work can be seen as at one with the arguments of Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari justifying fragmented forms of resistance and denying the need to confront the state.

Empire contains any number of arguments we see as problematic if not counter-revolutionary and recuperative, including the abandonment of value, the centrality of immaterial labour, the call for 'real democracy' and political proposals for 'global citizenship'. What stirred people's interest, it seemed, was the thesis of 'empire' itself - that of the emergence of a single unified global political-economic capitalist entity - which seemed to offer an alternative to unsatisfactory orthodox theories of imperialism. With the US war on Afghanistan, however, the notion of imperialism has returned to the forefront of political discourse.[58] What we are left with, then, as Negri's take on autonomia, is a celebration of fragmentation. The abandonment of the concept of the proletariat (now replaced by 'the multitude'), the universal revolutionary subject, is the abandonment of world revolution. Negri's work might therefore be said to express the profound sense of defeat and disillusion that followed the failure of the Movement of 1977.

6.2 History as ideology
Two different ways of writing history are evident in the books by Steve Wright and Harry Cleaver. Wright's is a history of the politics of a movement. But it is also critical, from a communist perspective. We therefore thoroughly recommend it as an invaluable resource in helping our understanding of the development, contributions and tensions of workerism and autonomia in their historical context of Italy in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

By contrast, for us, Cleaver's account of the tradition of autonomia is far more tendentious. Rather than focusing, as Wright does, on what is clearly a single historical episode, Cleaver selects a number of different movements and theorists, going back as far as C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya, which he then designates as representatives of what he calls "autonomist Marxism". Again, here Cleaver is consistent with the tradition of workerist historiography which, looking back, found the mass worker and hence a commonality with its own perspective in earlier struggles, such as the Wobblies and the working class movement in Germany in the 1920s.

In one sense it might seem there's nothing wrong with Cleaver's attempt simply to identify what he sees as the revolutionary use of Marx as a particular tradition. And if we look at the groups and theorists that he refers to (both in Reading 'Capital' Politically and also in his university course on 'autonomist Marxism'[59]) a very great deal of it corresponds with our own assessment of the most valuable contributions.

However, there are two, related, problems. First, in grouping the various movements and theorists together in the way that he does there is an element of the same homogenizing or flattening out - a neglect of differences - that we saw in Cleaver's 'autonomist' class analysis, as well as in the workerist concepts of mass worker and so on.

Second, it is revealing to consider which tendencies are excluded from Cleaver's canon, or at least addressed in only a cursory way. How might these neglected tendencies be in tension with the rest of the material? What contradictions might the formulation 'autonomist Marxism' suppress?

For us, as an account of developments in theory over the past century, the most notable absences from Reading 'Capital' Politically are the Situationist International[60] and the Italian left and those influenced by it, such as Barrot/Dauvé and Camatte. We can go so far as to say that the attempt to specify such a thing as 'autonomist Marxism' is ideological, with its emphasis on 'similar' ideas and its concealments (the glossing of the limits of the 'good' theorists and movements, the silence on those that don't fit). This is not unusual or strange. The capitalist counter-offensive which culminated in the defeat of the Movement of 1977 saw a disillusionment with the possibility of mass revolutionary change that was expressed in the destinations of those coming out of the area of autonomy: most went into the PCI or the armed groups. Likewise, the turning of the general insights of the operaismo and autonomia theorists into 'autonomist Marxism' can be seen as a reflection of the retreat of the movement giving rise to the ideas. Ideology is the freezing of theory; theory freezes when the practice on which it is based is halted. 'Autonomism' seems to be non-dogmatic and dynamic because of the emphasis on particular needs and diverse struggles etc.; but the very principle of openness to new struggles has itself become ideological as the wave of struggles has ebbed.

Thus the glossing of the limitations of those currents that Cleaver gives approval to, and even cites as exemplifying autonomous struggle (e.g. Wages for Housework),[61] goes hand in hand with the exclusion of those that would contribute to the critique of those same currents. Any radical current needs to critique itself in order transcend itself, as in the proletariat's self-liberation through self-abolition. Cleaver's identification of a thing with the label 'autonomist Marxism' is ideological in that it is partial and attempts to close off rather than open up a pathway to its own self-critique.

6.3 Towards a critical appraisal and appropriation of the contributions of the workerists
While Cleaver's book, and particularly his Introduction, has been important to many of us in the past, we would suggest now that Wright's book is more helpful than Reading 'Capital' Politically in allowing us to appropriate the best contributions of the workerist tradition. Wright ends his book with the sentence "Having helped to force the lock ... obstructing the understanding of working-class behaviour in and against capital, only to disintegrate in the process, the workerist tradition has bequeathed to others the task of making sense of those treasures which lie within." In many ways Italian workerist analyses of class struggle promised much, but delivered little. The whole tendency, increasingly divided into separate camps, collapsed at the end of the '70s. Whereas one camp favoured libertarian themes of autonomy, personal development and the subjective determinations of class identity; the other instead turned to debates over the 'armed party' and the feasibility of civil war. Both camps abandoned the traditional workerist focus on the relationship between technical and political class composition - that is, between the class's material structure in the labour process and its behaviour as a subject autonomous from dictates of both the labour movement and capital.

But what can we take from the whole experience? The "complex dialectic of decomposition and recomposition" of class forces, first elaborated by Tronti and others, was a significant departure from traditional leftist understanding of class struggle; the right questions were being asked: what material determinants are there in understanding the behaviour of the working class as (revolutionary) subject? But if the right questions were being asked, the answers the workerists provided were not always satisfactory; and tendency was often confused with totality. The early workerists were rightly criticized for their unwillingness to theorise moments of class struggle outside the large factories, and perhaps also for seeing the wage as the privileged locus of struggle; however their autonomia successors could be equally criticized for their problematic abandonment of the 'mass worker'.

Wright's book focuses on the concept of class composition, workerism's most distinctive contribution. Class composition was important as an attempt to express how the working class is an active subject, and thus takes us beyond the poverty of objectivist Marxism which portrayed the working class as passive and dependent. The concept grew from the experience of autonomous struggle when the working class was on the offensive, but is has come to seem less adequate when relied upon in periods of crisis and retreat. To what extent was there a political recomposition of the class with the decline of the mass worker? Was the 'socialized worker' made concrete by the self-reduction struggles of the 1970s and the student and unemployed movements of 1977? Certainly a multiplicity of struggles erupted on the social level. But did the struggles merge, did the new subjectivities forged in struggle coalesce? Class recomposition would entail the formation of an increasingly self-conscious proletarian movement. The dispersal of workers (operaio disseminato), and the displacement of struggle to the wider social terrain, because of the fluidity of situations and multiplicity of moments of struggle, make it harder for a self-conscious movement to emerge. But some in the area of autonomy point to the very same factors as having the potential for rapid transmission of struggles to all sectors of the class. But, while the refusal of work and the liberation of needs manifested themselves in many different ways in the struggles of the '70s (proletarian youth circles, riots, 'free shopping' or reappropriations, squatting, organized 'self-reduction' of rent, utility bills and transport fares etc.), they did not develop into the political movement around the wage (redefined as a guaranteed social income) that Negri theorized - let alone into any coherent class movement capable of overturning capitalist social relations.

If this review article has devoted so much space to the problems of workerism and autonomia it is only because of the historic importance of this current. Today, ideas such as the non-neutrality of machinery and factory organization, the focus on immediate struggles and needs (rather than a separate 'politics'), and the anti-capitalist nature of struggles outside (as well as within) the workplace are characteristic of many radical circles, not all of which would call themselves Marxist. The workerists were among the first to theorize these issues. The extent to which their arguments have been echoed by radicals down the years (as well as co-opted and distorted by recuperators) is an index of their articulation of the negation of the capital relation.

[Aufheben 11]



[2] The J18 mobilization sought to link up the autonomous struggles of "environmentalists, workers, the unemployed, indigenous peoples, trade unionists, peasant groups, women's networks, the landless, students, peace activists and many more". See

[3] In political discourse in the UK, 'workerism' is usually a derogatory term for approaches we disagree with for fetishizing the significance of workplace struggles (and dismissing those outside the workplace). Italian operaismo, on the other hand, refers to the inversion of perspective from that of the operation of capital to that of the working class: "We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first, and workers second. This is a mistake. And now we have to turn the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class. At the level of socially developed capital, capitalist development becomes subordinated to working class struggles; it follows behind them, and they set the pace to which the political mechanisms of capital's own reproduction must be tuned." (M. Tronti, 1964, 'Lenin in England', in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis (London: Red Notes/Conference of Socialist Economists, 1979). While the Italian usage is clearly positive rather than negative, as we shall see, one of the eventual limits of (versions of) Italian workerism was precisely the fetishizing of struggles on the factory floor.

[4] "The new 'technical bases' progressively attained in production provide capitalism with new possibilities for the consolidation of its power... But for this very reason, working-class overthrow of the system is a negation of the entire organization in which capitalist development is expressed - and first and foremost of technology as it is linked to productivity." R. Panzieri, 'The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx versus the Objectivists' in P. Slater ed., Outlines of a Critique of Technology (London: Ink Links), pp. 49-60.

[5] "At the highest level of capitalist development, the social relation becomes a moment of the relation of production, the whole of society becomes an articulation of production; in other words, the whole of society exists as a function of the factory and the factory extends its exclusive domination over the whole of society. It is on this basis that the machine of the political state tends ever-increasingly to become one with the figure of the collective capitalist." M. Tronti, Operai e Capitale (Turin: Einaudi 1971).

[6] S. Bologna (1977),'The Tribe of Moles', in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis (op. cit.).

[7] A. Negri (1973). 'Partito Operaio Contro il Lavoro', in S. Bologna et al., eds., Crisi e Organnizzazione Operaia (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1974)

[8] See Negri's (1982) 'Archaeology and Project: The Mass Worker and the Social Worker', in Revolution Retrieved: Selected Writings on Marx, Keynes, Capitalist Crisis & New Social Subjects 1967-83. (London: Red Notes, 1988).

[9] See 'Decadence: The Theory of Decline or the Decline of Theory? Part II', footnote 83, Aufheben 3 (Summer 1994).

[10] An opposite Marxian response to the 'problem' of the class basis of revolution, as provided by Moishe Postone in Time, Labor and Social Domination and the Krisis group, is to retain Marx's work as a critique of commodity society and value but disconnect this from class.

[11] P. Linebaugh, The London Hanged (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991).

[12] Negri introduced the term 'self-valorization' for this process of autonomous self-development. See Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the 'Grundrisse' (New York/London: Autonomedia/Pluto, 1991). The attraction of the concept lies in its implication that the working class is an active subject, not just a function of capital's valorization needs, and whose strategy is to take what it needs. However, in Marx, the concept of 'valorization' refers to capital's own operation - specifically, its use of our activity to expand value, that is, our alienated labour. It therefore seems extremely odd to employ it to refer to our activity against capital - unless that activity too is itself alienated in some way. In the preface to the second edition of Reading 'Capital' Politically, Cleaver acknowledges that the concept is problematic (as he does in his interview with Massimo de Angelis in Vis-Ã -Vis , 1993). However, he still uses it to explain that, in being against capital, autonomous struggles are also for 'a diverse variety of new ways of being'. See also his 'The Inversion of Class Perspective in Marxian Theory: From Valorization to Self-valorization' in W. Bonefeld, R. Gunn & K. Psychopedis eds., Open Marxism: Volume II: Theory and Practice (London: Pluto).

[13] The point is well put in 'Marianne Duchamp talks to Tursan Polat about Class': "First, there are differences, and not mere differences but oppositions of the first order, between the sociologic conception of socio-economic categories on the one hand and the hegelo-communist conception of social-class on the other. In the sociological conception, socio-economic categories, including 'class' and an inexhaustible number of constituent sub-strata, are defined: (a) beginning with the particular i.e. the individual, i.e. analytically/inductively; (b) as transtemporal aggregates of individuals who share commonalities of occupation, income, and even culture; (c) as static and normal presence within any society, i.e. biologically. In the hegelo-communist conception, social classes are defined: (a) beginning from the whole i.e. the social form i.e. synthetically/deductively; (b) as active bearers of the mutually opposed historical interests inherent within the social form; (c) with a view toward the abolition of state and economy; i.e. necrologically."

[14] See Dole Autonomy versus the Re-imposition of Work: Analysis of the Current Tendency to Workfare in the UK (now only available on our website), 'Unemployed Recalcitrance and Welfare Restructuring in the UK Today' in Stop the Clock! Critiques of the New Social Workhouse and 'Re-imposition of Work in Britain and the "Social Europe"', Aufheben 8 (Autumn 1999).

[15] Penguin edition, p. 792.

[16] For example, in the 1930s, the Communist Party, which nominally controlled the National Unemployed Workers' Movement (NUWM), saw the NUWM's role as limited to tail-ending existing industrial strikes. The NUWM leaders, despite their membership of the CPGB, asserted the role of the unemployed movement to act in its own right. See Wal Hannington, Unemployed Struggles 1919-1936: My Life and Struggles Amongst the Unemployed (Wakefield: EP Publishing 1936).

[17] American black struggles inspired the Italian workerists: "American Blacks do not simply represent, but rather are, the proletariat of the Third World within the very heart of the capitalist system... Black Power means therefore the autonomous revolutionary organisation of Blacks" (Potere Operaio Veneto-Emilano, 1967, cited in Wright, p. 132).

[18] An examination (and critique) of the issues around the Dalla Costa & Selma James pamphlet The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community, the 'Wages for Housework' demand and more recent discussions (e.g. Fortunadi's The Arcane of Reproduction) would be useful, but is beyond the scope of the present article.

[19] See 'A Commune in Chiapas? Mexico and the Zapatista Rebellion', Aufheben 9 (2000), especially pp. 20-22. While we took Holloway as the academic Marxist overestimating the working class and revolutionary significance of the Zapatista rebellion, Cleaver represents this tendency even more clearly. His refusal to consider criticisms of the Zapatistas and Marcos come across as just as ideological as previous Marxist defences of 'actually existing socialism'. For example: "a woman said of the '96 encuentros: 'the women [were] doing all the cooking and cleaning, including of toilets, invariably without any footwear (the men had the boots), even after the heavy rainfall... Harry Cleaver said 'Well, maybe they like it'...'" (cited in You Make Plans - We Make History, 2001).

[20] See T. Shanin ed., Late Marx and the Russian Road (London: Routledge, 1983); and T. Shanin, The Awkward Class (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).

[21] J. Camatte (1972) Community and Communism in Russia.

[22] "The student was already a proletarian by virtue of a subordinate location within the university division of labour. To the extent that existing stipends became a fully-fledged wage, she would be transformed from an 'impure social figure on the margins of the valorisation process' into a fully-fledged 'wage worker producing surplus value'" (Cazzaniga et al., 1968, cited in Wright, p. 95).

[23] See 'The Worker-Student Assemblies in Turin, 1969' in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis (op. cit.).

[24] An irony of such an approach is that it implies that the right thing for them to do is be bad students, yet Cleaver himself has been a good student and gathers other such good students around him.

[25] In fact, a focus on the side of struggle today might lead Cleaver to re-re-define students as middle class after all. With the wider retreat of collective proletarian resistance, and even as more people have entered university from working class backgrounds, so the incidence of overt struggles in the universities has declined.

[26] In fact, for many Marxist academics, the prefix 'radical' has now been replaced by 'critical', reflecting the general retreat of the class struggle which for the intelligentsia takes the form of a (still further) retreat into the realm of ideas and arguments.

[27] This point was ably made in Refuse (BM Combustion 1978): "The 'opposition' by counter-specialists to the authoritarian expertise of the authoritarian experts offers yet another false choice to the political consumer. These 'radical' specialists (radical lawyers, radical architects, radical philosophers, radical psychologists, radical social workers - everything but radical people) attempt to use their expertise to de-mystify expertise. The contradiction was best illustrated by a Case Con 'revolutionary' social worker, who cynically declared to a public meeting, 'The difference between us and a straight social worker is that we know we're oppressing our clients'. Case Con is the spirit of a spiritless situation, the sigh of the oppressed oppressor, it's the 'socialist' conscience of the guilt ridden social worker, ensuring that vaguely conscious social workers remain in their job while feeling they are rejecting their role... The academic counter-specialists attempt to attack (purely bourgeois) ideology at the point of production: the university. Unwilling to attack the institution, the academic milieu, the very concept of education as a separate activity from which ideas of separate power arise, they remain trapped in the fragmented categories they attempt to criticise... In saying social workers are just like any other worker, he [the Case Con social worker] conveniently ignores the authority role that social workers intrinsically have, plus the fact that when they participate in the class struggle they don't do so by 'radicalizing' their specific place in the division of labour (e.g. radical dockers, radical mechanics) but be revolting against it." (pp. 10-11, 23).

[28] See 'A Commune in Chiapas? Mexico and the Zapatista Rebellion', footnote 33, Aufheben 9 (2000).

[29] "we cannot understand class unless we see it as a social and cultural formation, arising from processes which can only be studied as they work themselves out over a considerable historical period." E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1963).

[30] Op. cit.

[31] 'Leftism' is a concept we find useful but is perhaps tricky to define. It can be thought of in terms of those practices which echo some of the language of communism but which in fact represent the movement of the left-wing of capital. However, for us an important point is to get away from the picture in which there is a pure class struggle only interfered with and prevented from generating communism by the interference of an exterior force (from the bourgeoisie) of leftism. A question arises of why the class struggle allows itself to be so diverted. It is important to recognize that, though some leftists are clearly part of the bourgeoisie or at least of the state, the power of leftism/trade unionism etc. comes from the fact that the working class generates leftism from within itself as an expression of its own current limits.

[32] 'The Tribe of Moles', op cit., p. 89.

[33] For Marx formal organizations were only episodes in "the history of the party which is growing spontaneously everywhere from the soil of modern society." Quoted in J. Camatte, Origin and Function of the Party Form. Camatte's discussion there in a sense takes the discourse on the party to the extreme where it dissolves, allowing his later perspectives of this in On Organization.

[34] Wright (p. 66) suggests that the earlier workerists had no time for the left's Third Worldism and support for nationalist struggles. However, a front cover of Potere Operaio magazine from the 1970s called for victory to the PLO-ETA-IRA.

[35] This (moralistic) attitude of cheer-leading 'Third World' (national liberation) struggles and contempt for the Western working class was an expression of the middle class social relations characteristic of these students.

[36] See, for example,

[37] See 'Crisis of the Planner-State: Communism and Revolutionary Organization' (1971) in Revolution Retrieved (op. cit.).

[38] Though we like his phrase "money is the face of the boss".

[39] See 'Review: Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-92', Aufheben 3 (Summer 1994) and 'Escape from the Law of Value?', Aufheben 5 (Autumn 1996).

[40] See Cleaver's useful summary of Negri's position in his Introduction to Negri's Marx beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse (New York/London: Autonomedia/Pluto Press, 1991).

[41] See, for example, Toni Negri, 'Keynes and the Capitalist Theory of the State post-1929' in Revolution Retrieved (op. cit.).

[42] Negri Proletari e Stato (2nd edn., Milan: Feltrinelli, 1976).

[43] "Your interest for the 'emergent strata' (proletarian youth, feminists, homosexuals) and for new, and reconceptualised, political subjects (the 'operaio sociale') has always been and is still shared by us. But precisely the undeniable political importance of these phenomena demands extreme analytical rigour, great investigative caution, a strongly empirical approach (facts, data, observations and still more observations, data, facts)." (Rivolta di classe, 1976, cited in Wright, p. 171).

[44] For a good account of the extent of recent 'hidden' struggles in the US today, see Curtis Price's 'Fragile Prosperity? Fragile Social Peace: Notes on the US'.

[45] See the Wildcat article 'Reforming the Welfare State in Order to Save Capitalism' in Stop the Clock! Critiques of the New Social Workhouse (Aufheben, 2000).

[46] Op. cit.

[47] See F.C. Shortall, The Incomplete Marx (Aldershot: Avebury, 1994).

[48] On the other hand, Cleaver also contends that what he is doing is not so different from Marx: "Marx illustrates these relations [of use-value and exchange-value] with a variety of apparently innocuous commodities: linen, iron, watches, and corn (wheat). I say apparently because most of these commodities played a key role in the period of capitalist development which Marx analysed: linen in the textile industry, iron in the production of machinery and cannon, watches in the timing of work, wheat as the basic means of subsistence of the working class. To be just as careful in this exposition, I suggest that we focus on the key commodities of the current period: labour power, food and energy". (p. 98). However, while Cleaver is probably right that Marx did not make an arbitrary choice of which commodities to mention in Chapter 1, their function in Marx's presentation is arbitrary. Unlike the political economists, Marx does give attention to the use-value side of the economy; but here in his opening chapter he makes no mention of the concreteness of these use-values in the class struggle. At this point of Marx's presentation of the capitalist mode of production, the precise use-values are irrelevant. Marx's reference to linen, corn etc. is a part of a logical presentation, not a reference to concrete struggles.

[49] I.I. Rubin, Essays on Marx's Theory of Value (New York/Montreal: Black Rose Books 1973).

[50] Cleaver's claim (p. 138) that while Marxists have examined the question of the content of value at length almost no work has been done on the issue of the form of value (and hence the necessity for Cleaver's own analysis) includes reference to Rubin. But this in itself suggests that Cleaver hasn't understood (and perhaps hasn't even read) Rubin's book, the whole of which is concerned precisely with the social form of value.

[51] Up until the 1970s, at least in the English speaking world, Marx was seen as having simply developed and refined Ricardo's labour theory of value. In this traditional interpretation, Marx, like Ricardo, was seen to adhere to an embodied labour conception of value. What was common to all commodities, and hence what it was that made them commensurate with each other as manifestations of this common factor, was that they were all products of the "expenditure of human brains, nerves and muscles", that is of human labour in general. Consequently, the value of a commodity was seen to be determined by the labour embodied in it during its production.

With this physiological, or quasi-physicalist, conception of labour, the Ricardian labour theory of value conceived value as merely a technical relation: the value of a commodity was simply determined by the amount of labour-energy necessary for its production. As such the Ricardian labour theory of value could in principle be applied to any form of society.

For Rubin, what was specific about the capitalist mode of production was that producers did not produce products for their own immediate needs but rather produced commodities for sale. The labour allocated to the production of any particular commodity was not determined prior to production by custom or by a social plan and therefore it was not immediately social labour. Labour only became social labour, a recognised part of the social division of labour, through sale of the commodity it produced. Furthermore, the exchange of commodities was a process of real abstraction through which the various types of concrete labour were reduced to a common substance - abstract social labour. This abstract social labour was the social substance of value. Rubin's abstract social labour theory of value necessarily entailed an account of commodity fetishism since it was concerned with how labour as a social relation must manifest itself in the form of value in a society in which relations between people manifest themselves as relations between things.

In the mid-1970s the labour theory of value came under attack from the neo-Ricardian school which argued that it was both redundant and inconsistent. Rubin's abstract social labour theory of value was then rediscovered as a response to such criticisms in the late 1970s. Although Cleaver dismisses Rubin there have been attempts to address his abstract social labour theory of value from the tradition of autonomia - see for example the article by Massimo De Angelis in Capital & Class, 57 (Autumn 1995).

[52] "An official Soviet philosopher wrote that 'The followers of Rubin and the Menshevizing Idealists ... treated Marx's revolutionary method in the spirit of Hegelianism... The Communist Party has smashed these trends alien to Marxism.' ... Rubin was imprisoned, accused of belonging to an organization that never existed, forced to 'confess' to events that never took place, and finally removed from among the living." (Fredy Perlman, About the Author, in Rubin's Essays on Marx's Theory of Value (op. cit.)

[53] We made this same point in our reply to Cleaver's associate George Caffentzis of Midnight Oil/Midnight Notes. See 'Escape from the Law of Value?', Aufheben 5 (Autumn 1996), p. 41.

[54] See F.C. Shortall, The Incomplete Marx (Aldershot: Avebury 1994).

[55] Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2000.

[56] Mark Leonard, 'The Left Should Love Globalization', New Statesman, 28th May 2001. Leonard is director of the Foreign Policy Centre think-tank and apparently a Blairite.

[57] This break was, as for a lot of militants of that period, quite physical. Arrested in 1979, Negri went into exile in 1983. However, his particular form of escape (getting elected as a MP) and the warm welcome and relatively cushy position that awaited him in France were based on the different status he held (as a professor) compared with other militants; thus sections of the movement saw him somewhat as a traitor. His return to Italy has not succeeded in redeeming him; nor has his credibility been restored by recent pronouncements, such as his advice to the anti-globalization movement that the '20% of voters' alienated from the political system need to be won back to electoral politics. (See 'Social Struggles in Italy: Creating a New Left in Italy')

[58] Of course, it is possible to reject the leftist inanities of 'anti-imperialism' while recognizing the realities of imperialist rivalries.


[60] The Society of the Spectacle, at least, appears in Cleaver's bibliographical history of the 'autonomist Marxist' tradition, appended to Negri's Marx Beyond Marx, op. cit.

[61] While Cleaver's decision to leave Reading 'Capital' Politically as it was rather than re-write it is understandable, what is perhaps less understandable - unless one wants to suggest that he is simply dogmatic - is his failure to use the new Preface to acknowledge the weaknesses in his analysis that have emerged with hindsight. The continued uncritical lauding of 'Wages for Housework' is one example; another is the claims made about the role of inflation made in the 1970s.

Intakes: Communist Theory - Beyond the Ultra-left

Aufheben present Theorie Communiste's reply and critique of their series of articles on decadence.

Submitted by libcom on December 13, 2005

Last century (a few years ago), the French group Théorie Communiste (TC) translated and published our articles on 'decadence' (Aufheben issues 2 - 4), accompanied by a critique. We publish that critique here, plus a short presentation by TC on their theoretical positions. TC write in quite a difficult style but they deal with important issues. While we are not in full agreement with either TC's overall perspective or all their criticisms of our text, we find what they are saying challenging. If they are on the right track then they have moved beyond the impasse of revolutionary theory as represented by the 'ultra-left'. We are working on a response to be published in the next issue of Aufheben, but have found we need to translate more of their texts to understand their perspective more clearly. As some of the political tendencies that TC allude to will be quite obscure to many non-French readers, for this issue we have written an introduction to their introduction of themselves, with some thoughts about the relation between communism, the workers movement and the ultra-left, and the French debates on this from which TC emerge.

Introduction: The workers' movement, communism and the ultra-left

At the beginning of the '70s it appeared to a whole tendency already critical of the historic ultra-left that the ultra-left's calling into question all the political and union mediations which give form to the proletariat's belonging, as a class, to the capitalist mode of production is far from being enough...

The central theoretical question thus becomes: how can the proletariat, acting strictly as a class of this mode of production, in its contradiction with capital within the capitalist mode of production, abolish classes, and therefore itself, that is to say: produce communism?

-Théorie Communiste


Communism is the self-abolition of the proletariat, which is to say, of the capitalist mode of production, because capital is a social relation with the proletariat as one of its poles. This was fundamental to Marx's contribution to communist theory, something he expresses rather well in the following passage of The Holy Family:

Proletariat and wealth are opposites; as such they form a single whole. They are both creations of the world of private property. The question is exactly what place each occupies in the antithesis. It is not sufficient to declare them two sides of a single whole.

Private property as private property, as wealth, is compelled to maintain itself, and thereby its opposite, the proletariat, in existence. That is the positive side of the antithesis, self-satisfied private property.

The proletariat, on the contrary, is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite, private property, which determines its existence, and which makes it proletariat. It is the negative side of the antithesis, its restlessness within its very self, dissolved and self-dissolving private property.

The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognises estrangement as its own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence. It is, to use an expression of Hegel, in its abasement the indignation at that abasement, an indignation to which it is necessarily driven by the contradiction between its human nature and its condition of life, which is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that nature.

Within this antithesis, the private property-owner is therefore the conservative side, the proletarian the destructive side. From the former arises the action of preserving the antithesis, from the latter the action of annihilating it.

Indeed, private property drives itself in its economic movement towards its own dissolution, but only through a development which does not depend on it, which is unconscious and which takes place against the will of private property by the very nature of things, only inasmuch as it produces the proletariat as proletariat, poverty which is conscious of its spiritual and physical poverty, dehumanisation which is conscious of its dehumanisation, and therefore self-abolishing. The proletariat executes the sentence that private property pronounces on itself by producing the proletariat, just as it executes the sentence that wage-labour pronounces on itself by producing wealth for others and poverty for itself. When the proletariat is victorious, it by no means becomes the absolute side of society, for it is victorious only by abolishing itself and its opposite. Then the proletariat disappears as well as the opposite which determines it, private property.

When socialist writers ascribe this world-historic role to the proletariat, it is not at all... because they regard the proletarians as gods. Rather the contrary. Since in the fully-formed proletariat the abstraction of all humanity, even of the semblance of humanity, is practically complete; since the conditions of life of the proletariat sum up all the conditions of life of society today in their most inhuman form; since man has lost himself in the proletariat, yet at the same time has not only gained theoretical consciousness of that loss, but through urgent, no longer removable, no longer disguiseable, absolutely imperative need -- the practical expression of necessity -- is driven directly to revolt against this inhumanity, it follows that the proletariat can and must emancipate itself. But it cannot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions of its own life. It cannot abolish the conditions of its own life without abolishing all the inhuman conditions of life of society today which are summed up in its own situation. Not in vain does it go through the stern but steeling school of labour. It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will historically be compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is visibly and irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation as well as in the whole organisation of bourgeois society today. There is no need to explain here that a large part of the English and French proletariat is already conscious of its historic task and is constantly working to develop that consciousness into complete clarity.[1]

While, in his later writings, Marx would generally use the word 'capital' (or 'the commodity') instead of 'private property', there is for us a fundamental continuity between what is expressed here and his later work.[2] However, notwithstanding Marx's optimism that a large part of the proletariat in 1845 was developing a consciousness of its historic task - that is, of self abolition - the ideology of the workers' movement quickly became an ideology of work, the dignity of labour, glorification of industry, progress, etc. If one looks at the trajectory of the historical workers' movement, one might easily conclude that, far from trying to abolish the proletariat and the conditions which give rise to it, it has - at least as represented by its dominant traditions - acted to affirm (even generalize) the proletarian condition and to attain recognition for the working class as workers, that is, as subjects within bourgeois society. Instead of the revolutionary watchword, "Abolish the wages system!", which Marx suggested,[3] the workers' movement inscribed on its banner the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!"

This assessment of the outcome as opposed to the stated intentions of the workers' movement can be applied to all its dominant traditions, both 'Marxist' (social democracy and Stalinism) and non-Marxist (labourism, syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism). The most extreme example, is of course, the large parts of the workers' movement that have supported the USSR, where the identification of socialism with modernization of the 'national economy', the proletarianization of the peasantry, the building of huge factories and exhortations to labour-discipline and productivity - in short, with capitalism - reached its apogee and became a model for 'third world' modernization across the world. Yet we also see it outside those who identify directly with Stalinism: in the embrace by syndicalists of productivist ideologies[4] (even allowing a significant number to pass over to fascism), in the social democrat Noske's definition of socialism as 'working a lot', in Lenin's embrace of Taylorism and iron labour discipline, in Trotsky's arguments for the militarization of labour and his critically expressed admiration for Stalin's industrial achievements,[5] in the anarcho-syndicalist militants flinging themselves into organizing production against the resistance of Spanish workers.[6] A further indication of the bankruptcy of the official workers' movement was the way in which the aspects of it which the fascist and Nazi movements[7] did not need to destroy could be integrated quite smoothly into the regimes they established.[8]

Of course, it could all be summed up in terms of betrayals: the betrayal of the social democratic parties and the trade unions, mobilizing workers for slaughter in the first world war and acting to save capitalism against workers insurrection afterwards; the betrayal of Stalin (or earlier, Bolshevik leaders, depending on one's politics), turning the Soviet Union from a vision of hope for workers throughout the world into a workhouse; the betrayal of the anarchist leaders[9] in Spain for joining the government and demobilizing workers' resistance to Stalinist repression.[10] In this view, these tendencies were at one moment on the workers' side, but at crucial moments go over to the side of capital and do so through the failings of their leadership. The point is to defend a pure tradition of - depending on one's ideological perspective - classical Marxism or true anarchism - a red or a black line - from how such traditions expressed themselves historically. Hidden in such assumptions is generally the idea that, with the right leaders or organization, those historical movements would have succeeded and communism would have 'won'; thus the task becomes to rebuild (or maintain or create) organizations that next time won't betray us.

But it must be asked, how did these ideologies become possible; how did the working class end up expressing itself in these ways? How did each of these organizational expressions of the proletariat - social democracy, Third International Communism, revolutionary syndicalism, anarcho-syndicalism - all end up supporting capitalism? One can use the term leftism[11] to get a handle on this phenomena but it remains true that leftism does not explain things, leftism needs to be explained.

Now, as Debord emphasized,[12] the movement of workers cannot simply be reduced to its ideological representations. Historically, the class struggle, including that waged by workers identifying with the movements described, has not always stayed within the limits their ideologies prescribe. On an everyday level, the behaviour of workers often runs counter to their political allegiances, the positions adopted by trade unions they might be members of, and even from their own previously expressed opinions. Organizationally (even before WW1), workers in the heartlands of the Second International expressed themselves in mass political strikes that went against the separation of political and economic action agreed by the social democrat parties and the unions.[13] Representing a more fundamental break, workers responded to the Second International parties and the unions' support for the first world war by leaving these organizations and setting up alternative organizations - factory struggle groups, breakaway parties, etc. Later, opposition to the way the Russian Revolution was developing emerged continuously, within and outside the party, in Russia and beyond. Large numbers of anarchist workers opposed the CNT's line both in terms of economic sacrifices for the war and later over the Maydays.[14] In another example, during WW2 American auto workers responded affirmatively to the combined efforts of employers, state and Stalinists to make them sign a no strike pledge... but then struck anyway![15]

Thus, as well as signs of workers accepting their role, there is both an everyday contradiction between workers and 'their' organizations' efforts to integrate them into capitalist society, and moments in which the working class has moved to rupture with its representatives. Whether conceiving of themselves as a fundamental break from the mainstream traditions of the workers' movement, or more often as in some way upholding the revolutionary kernel those traditions were abandoning, political/theoretical currents have regularly emerged from this contradiction.[16]


The 'historic ultra-left' refers to a number of such currents which emerged out of one of the most significant moments in the struggle against capitalism - the revolutionary wave that ended the First World War. Ultra-leftism offers an explanation of why the workers' movement failed to get rid of capitalism, and why in particular the Russian Revolution failed to deliver. Whatever its subsequent history, the ultra-left did not emerge as tiny sects or groups of dissidents but as a part of a mass social movement when the dominant tradition of social democracy was thoroughly discredited and it seemed as though the meaning of the workers' movement and communism was up for grabs. In Western Europe, large numbers of workers made a break with social democratic politics and gravitated to the Third International set up by the Bolshevik Party. However, in the crucial formative years after 1917, many sections of the world communist movement, including a majority of those in Italy and Germany (the areas of Western Europe which seemed closest to revolution), had or would develop a different understanding of what a communist break from social democracy amounted to, than that displayed by the leadership of the Bolsheviks. These differences would lead to splits. In 1920, in the build-up to the first proper[17] congress of the Third International, Lenin laid out what he considered the difference between 'Bolshevism' and these other tendencies in his (in)famous pamphlet - Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.

The two ultra-lefts

One of the two main wings of the historic ultra-left, the Dutch/German Left, parted from the Third International on the basis of the debate opened by Lenin's polemic, on issues like what sort of party communists should form, the attitude to take towards parliament and trade unions, etc. The other main wing - Bordiga's Italian Left - essentially sided with Lenin at this point and only opposed Moscow's dominance of the world communist movement later, around issues like the United Front and Stalin's embrace of 'Socialism in one Country'. Thus, on the grounds around which it split from Moscow, and on issues like nationalism, trade unions[18] and the role of 'the party',[19] the Italian Left appears far from the Dutch/German Left. However, while there is no space in this text to go into the detailed histories of these currents[20] and how their positions evolved, there are good reasons to connect the two traditions. Despite the apparently fundamental difference over the role of the party that leads to mutual incomprehension between partisans of each tradition, their political analysis of certain crucial issues, such as grasping the counter-revolutionary nature of the USSR and its CPs, opposing united and popular fronts and maintaining a revolutionary opposition to capitalist wars, identified them together as the ultra-left as against Trotskyism, which defended the USSR, joined social democratic parties, etc. In perhaps the most significant historic example - a test by fire - while 'the left', including most Trotskyists, generally supported democracy and/or the USSR against fascism in the Spanish Civil War and in WW2, both 'wings' of the ultra-left agitated against support for the democratic bourgeoisie against the fascist variety, and against participation in all capitalist conflicts. In all these areas a clear line emerged between adherents of the ultra-left and Trotskyism. However, today the term 'ultra-leftism' is not used simply to describe the hard adherents of these historical traditions of the communist left; we can see it as an area defined by certain political positions and attitudes, which may or may not be taken from the historic ultra-left.

A war of positions?

Ultra-leftism presents itself as having a set of political positions distinct from or even opposed to standard 'leftist' positions. While leftists for a long time considered the USSR and similar regimes to be in some way socialist or at least post-capitalist, ultra-leftism very quickly saw them as capitalist; while leftists generally support trade unions as at the very least defensive working class organizations (while criticising their bureaucracy), ultra-leftists typically reject unions for incorporating the working class into capital and instead emphasize the workers' need to break from them and act independently; while leftism generally calls for participation in parliamentary elections in the form of 'critical support' for reformist working class parties or perhaps to support a strategy of so called 'revolutionary parliamentarianism',[21] ultra-leftism rejects such methods as a promotion of illusions; while leftism supports national liberation struggles, ultra-leftism expresses hostility to all nationalism; while leftism for the purposes of 'winning over workers' generally adopts 'united front' or even 'popular front' strategies of uniting with social democrats and even liberals, ultra-leftism sees this as failing to separate revolutionary communist politics from bourgeois politics; while leftists are often led by some of these positions to take sides in capitalist wars, ultra-leftists tend to take an internationalist stance of opposition to all sides. The differences here are so profound that one can see why the ultra-left see themselves as communist and sees leftists as the left wing of capital.

However, immediately after one sets out ultra-leftism as a set of positions or 'class lines', problems become evident. There is a tendency for many who identify with the ultra-left to define themselves negatively in relation to the left. There is the class struggle, the left relates to it one way, the ultra-left denounces this. The ultra-left becomes a negative impression of the left.[22] When an organization, or for that matter an individual, appears to adopt some 'ultra-left' positions while retaining other 'leftist' ones,[23] those identifying with the true, i.e. ultra-left, communist tradition are led into acts of demarcation and denunciation which appear as a defence of purity. Upsetting such an ideological operation is the fact that, as we have suggested, the groups that are clearly of the ultra-left do not even agree on all these positions themselves. In the face of this contradiction, it is possible to become partisan of one or other of these traditions[24] to the exclusion of the other or to adopt a bit of a pick-and-mix approach. But whatever the (not irrelevant) fine points in the disputes between the wings of the historic ultra-lefts, which can't be explored here, there is for us a more profound issue.

If, to repeat a formulation we are fond of, communism is the real movement, it is not fundamentally about the adoption of a set of principles, lines and positions.[25] Of course, the positions of the ultra-left emerged out of the class struggle, but such positions were only more or less right when they were made - they are approximations, an expression of 'as revolutionaries best saw it' - and thus something more needs to be done than just agree with them and proselytize. The class struggle can be seen as a wave that advanced to a high point around 1919 and as it receded left ideas around like flotsam in its wake. What these traditions represent is an attempt to maintain the historic lessons of this high point in the class struggle, despite the retreat of that movement. Moreover, the limits of that wave of class struggle - its inability to generalize as world revolution - led to varying revolutionary experiences in different countries expressing themselves in different lessons being drawn... and it is these that lie at the root of the historical spilt between the Lefts. Part of the price that these tendencies paid for maintaining the more or less revolutionary ideas in the circumstances of the more or less complete capitulation of the workers' movement to Stalinism, anti-fascism and the mobilization for another slaughter was that the ideas became somewhat frozen and ideological. When theory becomes an 'ism' - a specific set of positions separate from the class struggle - it is a sign of the retreat of the movement. There is a stiffness in the way many groups and individuals identifying with the 'ultra-left' express themselves. For many, the adoption, reproduction and assertion of these positions mechanically in the face of the class struggle acts to reinforce their own identity as 'revolutionary', while reducing their ability to recognize and relate to the contradictions of real social movements. To think that the positions are simply revolutionary, or that adopting them makes one revolutionary, reifies what being revolutionary is. Communism is the attempt to express the real movement; but the real movement is not fully present until it is successful; thus communist theory is only partial - an aspiration - and the theoretical work is never quite finished. It is taken forward by advances in the class struggle and the reflection on this. Put another way, theory does not take the point of view of the totality but of the aspiration to the totality.[26] It is inadequate and unhistorical to assume that the ultra-left had the right ideas but that they simply lost out to the wrong ones, and on this basis to assert its critique of trade unions and leftist political parties when the opportunity occurs.

As we said in our first editorial,[27] the '60s and '70s saw a re-emergence of a whole series of theoretical currents, which included the ultra-left. But while a number of groups that sprung up regurgitated as ideology the theories they were discovering, others worked to actually develop theory adequate to the new conditions. The task before the new generation was to take up ideas, such as those of the historic ultra-left, in a non-ideological way. An irony was that the place where their legacy has been taken up in a dynamic and original way has not been Germany, Holland or Italy, but France. There is a real sense in which the 'modern' ultra-left has largely been a French phenomenon.

Ultra-leftism as a French tradition[28]

The May '68 movement, or at least its most advanced elements, gravitated towards a 'councilist' perspective: derived from the Dutch/German Left, councilism rejected Leninism and the party and put its faith in the 'workers councils'.[29] A total surprise to the left, the character of this movement had best been prefigured in the analyses of non-orthodox ultra-left influenced groups[30] like the Situationist International (SI) and Socialism or Barbarism (S ou B), and its successor organizations such as ICO.[31]

In the wake of '68, there was a surge of interest in the ultra-left. With the SI not taking new members, and busy expelling the ones they had,[32] it was ICO that attracted a large part of the new influx. It expanded massively to become the largest ultra-left group in France, with a few hundred members. It had links with many local 'councilist' groups that emerged across France, one of the more significant of which was the one TC emerged from - the Marseilles-based Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils (Notebooks on Council Communism).

However, the adequacy of the council communist perspective was increasingly questioned by individuals and groups[33] appropriating ideas coming from the Italian Left and in particular its critique of self-management.[34] An important part of the dynamism of the French ultra-left lies in the fact that one of the main ways Bordiga and the Italian Left's ideas were introduced to France[35] in this period was not by traditional Left Communists but by less orthodox figures like Camatte and others around the journal Invariance, and by Gilles Dauvé and the group Mouvement Communiste. In a text that has been translated as part of Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement, Dauvé argues correctly that a problem with the (councilist) ultra-left is that it opposed the bureaucracy, state control and the Leninist party with another set of organizational forms - workers' democracy, self-management and the councils - missing the issue of the content of communism. If the defining politics of '68 - the social content was something else - had been 'self managementist', then the critique was a significant one.[36]

Another group TC mention, Révolution International/ICC,[37] are also connected to the dissatisfaction with 'councilism'. However, it has largely rejected any new thinking as 'modernism' in favour of a more fundamentalist -'the correct positions have already been arrived at' - Left Communism based on a select appropriation of the Dutch/German and Italian Left heritages. It managed to recruit many of the councilist groups and individuals that had sprung up in France and elsewhere on the basis of the line that revolution was imminent and it was necessary to get organized and build a left communist organization/party.

It is the less organizationally fixated and more theoretically questioning currents, of which TC are part, that are more interesting for us. As Loren Goldner puts it, debates in the French ultra-left in 1968-73 reapproached the issue of capitalism in terms of value "in order to insist, rightly, that communism was neither 'nationalised property' or 'workers' control of production' but the positive supersession of commodity production and all its categories: value, wage labour, capital, the proletariat as a social relationship, all grasped as an integral whole."[38] Informing the debates, and allowing them to transcend an ultra-left version of Second International Marxism, were the newly available texts by Marx, the Grundrisse and the 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production' (the 'Missing Sixth Chapter' of Capital). Bordiga and the circle around him, including Camatte, had been amongst the first to recognize the significance of these texts. Whatever their problems,[39] the strength of Camatte and others was that they did not take the theoretical ideas of either the Dutch/German and/or Italian Lefts, or even of Marx, as complete and finished doctrines simply needing to be propagated, but attempted to approach reality in a non-ideological way.

One example of the usefulness of a non-dogmatic taking up of the ideas of the Italian left was that the German/Dutch Left factoryist and economistic vision of self-management could be subjected to the critique of the Italian Left, but at the same time the Italian Left's conception that revolution is first of all a political act could be overturned with an idea of revolution as fundamentally neither political nor economic but social: communization - the direct negation of capitalist social relations, and in particular the enterprise form, and their replacement by human ones. If in the period up to and including May '68 the SI had been the most dynamic revolutionary tendency, an argument can be made that, in the years following, it was other tendencies more open (critically) to the Italian Left and to the newly-published texts of Marx's Critique of Political Economy that were at the cutting edge of theory and critique. Part of the SI's power was that they had not simply adopted council communism, but with their critique of culture and of everyday life, their practices of drift and diversion etc. had pushed and deepened the meaning of revolution. Similarly, the best French 'ultra-left' groups of the '70s, by not simply adopting a left communist ideology but using the newly available Marx to rethink what the overcoming of capitalism was, went further in a revolutionary grasping of what had been novel in the '68 events and in the new developments in the class struggle continuing to occur across the advanced capitalist world. Without agreeing with every innovation of these currents, it seems clear to us that communist theory was being advanced in the French ultra-left scene not least through a questioning of the limits of 'ultra-leftism'. It is out of this milieu that TC emerge.

Théorie Communiste on objectivism

TC place objectivism and the other issues raised by our 'Decadence' articles within a historical schema based on Marx's concepts of formal and real subsumption of labour,[40] and a whole set of categories which they have developed over the last thirty years. The criticisms TC make of particular sections of the 'Decadence' articles are in many cases valid - for example, our discussion of the Russian revolution and our treatment of autonomist Marxism - are intertwined with this overall perspective. Our impression is that TC are certainly asking some of the right questions.

A difficulty the reader (and those we have asked to translate for us) find is that TC express themselves in a difficult and sometimes obscure manner. They seem to insist on and repeat a number of rather abstract formulations - for example, the ideas of the mutual involvement of capital and proletariat, and of the self-presupposition of capital - in order to grasp capital and the class struggle. TC feel the idea of "mutual involvement of proletariat and capital" is missing from our articles. However while at some points the articles do not escape a separation of capital(ism) and class struggle, what certainly seems misplaced to us is TC's thinking that the weaknesses in the articles are founded on Aufheben's "preference for the concept of alienation to that of exploitation." On the contrary, we'd say that the place in the articles where the conception of 'mutual involvement' is most present is actually in our use of the category of alienation. This is something we will return to in our response to their critique.

The more we read TC, the more it is evident that their categories are based on a close reading of Marx's Critique of Political Economy, and in particular of the Grundrisse and the 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production'. Part of the difficulty of TC's writing is that they move between the abstract level of the theory in the Grundrisse and a more concrete examination of the class struggle. This is not necessarily a criticism - we get much from the Grundrisse and there is nothing wrong with someone writing at that level now (even if it is likely to restrict their readership). One possibility to consider is that TC's constant return to certain abstract formulations, even at the price of their writing becoming repetitious and difficult to read, may have advantages in resisting the path of least resistance of bourgeois thought, stopping oneself slipping into the type of thought which accepts and reproduces fetishized appearances and separations.[41] So while TC's abstract theory is undoubtedly difficult, one might say any attempt to understand the complex processes of history will be difficult, as is Marx's. One must deal with problems at the level of difficulty which they demand. However, a merit of Marx's abstractions is that they move, they allow a grasp of reality and open it up - do TC's? Marx's abstract level of theorizing was usually accompanied by texts in which he made every effort to be comprehensible, to present the practical implications, as he saw it, of his more theoretical work back to the real movement, which he, like TC, would see as the actual origin of his theory. Likewise, TC have interesting things to say about the class struggle, both in the past and with recent developments, which they describe as 'radical democratism' and the 'direct action movement'.

Below we present TC's account of their history and perspective, followed by our own summary of the main thrust of the 'Decadence' articles, which serves as a preface to TC's critique.

Théorie Communiste: Background and Perspective

The first issue of the review Théorie Communiste (TC) came out in 1977. The original group involved had got together in 1975. Previously some of the members of this group had published the review Intervention Communiste (two issues appeared in '72 and '73) and had participated in the publication Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils - Notebooks on Council Communism. Edited in Marseilles between '68 and '73, this publication was very much linked to ICO (Informations et Correspondance Ouvriére - Workers' News and Correspondence, which has since become Echanges et Mouvement - Exchanges and Movement). The group separated from Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils as soon as it started to fuse with Révolution Internationale (the International Communist Current). The brief history which follows allows us, in part, to get to grips with the problems and questions which existed at the origin of TC.

At the beginning of the '70s a whole tendency already critical of the historic ultra-left began to find aspects of the ultra-left's analysis inadequate, in particular their critique of all the political and union mediations which give form to the proletariat's belonging, as a class, to the capitalist mode of production. In the balance sheet that we can draw up of the wave of class struggle at the end of the '60s, the call for class action in itself masks the essential problem: it is not a question of rediscovering a pure assertion of the proletariat. The revolution, the abolition of capital, will be the immediate negation of all classes, including the proletariat. Yet we didn't want to adopt the approach of Invariance who, from this observation, ended up rejecting any classist perspective on the contradictions of existing society and the revolution, nor that of Mouvement Communiste, led by Jean Barrot, who, by an injection of Bordigism, sought to radicalize the ultra-left problematic.

At first the theoretical work of TC (in cooperation with the group who published Négation) consisted of elaborating the concept of programmatism. The crisis at the end of the '60s/beginning of the '70s was the first crisis of capital during the real subsumption of labour under capital. It marked the end of all the previous cycles which, since the beginning of the 19th Century, had for their immediate content and for their objective the increase in strength of the class within the capitalist mode of production and its affirmation as the class of productive work, through the taking of power and the putting in place of a period of transition. Practically and theoretically, programmatism designates the whole of that period of the class struggle of the proletariat. Despite having renewed this problematic out of necessity, Echanges (published in English and French) remains on the same general basis, namely that in each struggle the proletariat must rediscover itself; revolution becomes the process of struggles, the process of this conquest of itself.

The central theoretical question thus becomes: how can the proletariat, acting strictly as a class of this mode of production, in its contradiction with capital within the capitalist mode of production, abolish classes, and therefore itself, that is to say: produce communism? A response to this question which refers to some kind of humanity underneath the proletarian or to human activity underneath work, not only traps itself in a philosophical quagmire, but always returns to the consideration that the class struggle of the proletariat can only go beyond itself in so far as it already expresses something which exceeds and affirms itself (we can find this even in the present theoretical formalisations of the 'direct action movement'). The sweaty labourer has been replaced by Man, but the problem has not changed, which remains that of 'Aufhebung'.

Starting from this basis, we have undertaken a work of theoretical redefinition of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital. In the first place it was necessary to redefine the contradiction as being simultaneously the contradiction bearing communism as its resolution and the reproductive and dynamic contradiction of capital. It was necessary to produce the identity of the proletariat as a class of the capitalist mode of production and as a revolutionary class, which implies that we no longer conceive this 'revolutionariness' as a class nature which adjusts itself, disappears, is reborn, according to circumstances and conditions. This contradiction is exploitation. With exploitation as a contradiction between the classes we grasped their characterisation as the characterisation of the community, therefore as being simultaneously their reciprocal involvement. This meant that we were able to grasp: the impossibility of the affirmation of the proletariat; the contradiction between the proletariat and capital as history; the critique of any revolutionary nature of the proletariat as a defining essence buried or masked by the reproduction of the whole (the self-presupposition of capital). We had historicized the contradiction and therefore the revolution and communism, and not only their circumstances. The revolution and communism are what is produced historically through the cycles of struggles which accentuate the development of the contradiction. The contradiction between the proletariat and capital was really disobjectified, without taking the economy to be an illusion. The tendential fall in the rate of profit became immediately a contradiction between classes and not that which triggers it, as always remained the case with Mattick, even though his theory of crises opens the way to the supersession of objectivism.

In addition to the deepening of these theoretical presuppositions, the work of TC consists of defining the structure and content of the contradiction between classes at work since the end of the '70s, and consolidated in the '80s. There was a restructuring of the relations of exploitation, that is to say of the contradiction between classes, which was the second phase of real subsumption.

The extraction of relative surplus has become a process of reproduction of the interface between capital and labour which is adequate to it in that it contains no element, no point of crystallisation, no sticking point which can be a hindrance to the necessary fluidity and constant overturning which it needs. Against the previous cycle of struggles, restructuring has abolished all specificity, guarantees, 'welfare', 'Fordian compromise', division of the global cycle into national areas of accumulation, into fixed relations between the centre and the periphery, into internal zones of accumulation (East/West). The extraction of surplus value in its relative mode demands constant upheaval and the abolition of all restrictions to the immediate process of production, the reproduction of labour power and the relations of capitals with each other.

The restructuring of the capitalist mode of production cannot exist without a workers' defeat. This defeat was that of the worker's identity, of the Communist parties, of 'actually existing socialism', of trade unionism, of self-management, of self-organisation. It is a whole cycle of struggles in its diversity and its contradictions which was defeated in the '70s and early '80s. Restructuring is essentially counter-revolution. Its essential result, since the beginning of the '80s, is the disappearance of any productive worker's identity reproduced and confirmed within the capitalist mode of production.

When the contradictory relation between the proletariat and capital is no longer defined in the fluidity of capitalist reproduction, the proletariat can only oppose itself to capital by calling into question the movement in which it is itself reproduced as a class. The proletariat no longer carries a project of social reorganisation as an affirmation of what it is. In contradiction with capital, it is, in the dynamic of the class struggle, in contradiction with its own existence as a class. This is now the content of, and what is at stake in, the class struggle. It is the basis of our present work through analyses not only of the course of capital but also, indissociably, of struggles such as that of December '95 in France, of the movement of the unemployed or the sans-papiers,[42] as well as everyday struggles which are less spectacular but, even so, indicative of this new cycle.

That which is fundamentally radical about the cycle of struggles is simultaneously its limit: the existence of the class in the reproduction of capital. This limit which is specific to the new cycle of struggles is the foundation and the historically specific content of what from 1995 we have called 'radical democratism'. It is the expression and the formalisation of the limits of this cycle of struggles. It sets up in political practice or in an alternativist perspective the disappearance of any worker's identity so as to ratify the existence of the class within capital as a collection of citizens and/or producers, an existence to which it asks capital to conform. In opposition to this, but on the same basis, the 'direct action movement' thinks of itself as already being new 'disalienated' social relations opposed to capital.

Starting out from this cycle of struggles, revolution is a supersession produced by it. There cannot be an extension of present struggles as they are in themselves to revolution for the simple reason that revolution is the abolition of classes. This supersession is the moment when, in the class struggle, class belonging itself becomes an exterior constraint imposed by capital. It is a contradictory process internal to the capitalist mode of production. In the meantime, neither orphans of the labour movement, nor prophets of the communism to come, we participate in the class struggle as it is on a daily basis and as it produces theory.

Decadence: The theory of decline or the decline of theory (reprise)

The main TC text which follows below is, as its title suggests, critical comments which they made to accompany their translation of the decadence articles from Aufheben issues 2-4.[43] For readers who have not seen the texts or perhaps wish to be reminded we will give a summary here.

In order to deal with the theory of decadence or decline it was necessary to consider a great deal of material - conceptions of capitalist crisis and collapse, the evolution of transitory forms, the necessity or otherwise of socialism - which have dominated attempts at the revolutionary analysis of twentieth-century capitalism. The underlying theme we identified (and one that attracted TC's interest) was the issue of objectivism. Under this term, we analysed a prevalent form of understanding dominated by the separation of the objective and the subjective - capitalist development and the class struggle - the posing of capitalism as, so to speak, a machine with an inexorable objective (mechanical?) logic heading towards its collapse, generating a subjective response in the necessity of the class struggle moving towards socialist revolution. In this conception, the driving force towards communism, its material basis, was seen as the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production understood as a fundamental underlying objective reality to which socialist revolution would be an inevitable consequence (with a collapse into barbarism sometimes suggested as the only other possibility). Based on such a conception, the central problem of revolution tended to be reduced to one way or other of having consciousness and subjectivity catch up with the objective situation, with the crisis playing a key role. Objectivism could be expressed politically in opposite ways; as Trotsky's reduction of everything to the crisis of leadership, with the revolutionary task reduced to tactical questions of organizing the vanguard or party to take advantage of the crisis that would surely come; or, as with Mattick and 'councilism', be seen in a totally non-vanguardist way with revolution a spontaneous working class reaction to the crisis. We traced the origin of such theorizing to the 'classical Marxism' developed by Engels and the Second International of which Trotskyism and 'left-communism' or the 'ultra-left' claimed to be the true continuations. We saw how these theories seemed to be undermined by the failure of capitalism to collapse or produce a revolution after WW2. In the second article in the series, we then addressed the heterodox currents; like Socialism or Barbarism, the Situationists and the autonomist Marxists, which emerged at this point and who questioned the objectivist decline problematic and asserted the crucial importance of the revolutionary subject in the overthrow of capitalism. But we also noted how the return of crisis itself in the '70s seemed to renew the necessity of understanding crisis - objectivistically or otherwise. We finished with a consideration of the approach adopted by the Radical Chains magazine which focused on the role of state interventions like welfare as the 'prevention of communism', and we ended with (a rather too brief) suggestion of an alternative perspective.

We now turn, then, to TC's response to our 'Decadence' articles.

Aufheben's 'Decadence': A response[44]

It goes without saying that for us to undertake what represented a considerable task for us, a translation intended for publication of the three-part Aufheben article on objectivism and the 'theories of decadence', we consider this text of great interest. Beyond the listing of a huge mass of documentation and the construction of a history of the concept of objectivism, this interest lies in the underlying critical point of view on this history and the perspectives it opens for a current theoretical production.

This point-of-view can be summed up in four quotations:

"For us, the market or law of value is not the essence of capital; its essence is rather the self-expansion of value: that is, of alienated labour."

"Autonomist theory in general and the theory of crisis as class struggle in particular did essential work on the critique of the reified categories of objectivist Marxism. It allows us to see them 'as modes of existence of the class struggle' [TC emphasis]. If at times they overstate this, failing to see the real extent to which the categories have an objective life as aspects of capital, it remains necessary to maintain the importance of the inversion."

"The object of the law of value is not products but the working class (…) its existence outside it."[45]

"Marx established how the predominant class system and the class struggle act through the commodity, wage labour, etc." [Editors' note: Our actual words were: "Marx analysed how the system of class rule and class struggle operates through the commodity, wage labour etc."]

These formulations could very well be ours.

It is rare that theoretical works attend to this essential problem of objectivism without descending into the worst deranged subjectivist imaginings or without simply abandoning a theory of classes, of their contradiction and of communism as the supersession of this contradiction. However (fortunately there are always 'howevers'), we have a series of critical comments to formulate on this text, comments which we are ready to discuss.

The basis of these comments is the absence, despite the quotations above, of the conception of a mutual involvement between proletariat and capital as defining their contradiction. As we show in the piece on objectivism (TC 15), the question here is of determining the concept of exploitation, to which Aufheben seems to prefer that of alienation, which upholds the exteriority between the 'alienated subject' and its 'essence' outside itself. The absence of this conception of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital as mutual involvement, the preference for the concept of alienation, leads to affirmations which we absolutely cannot share, such as the following: "for us, the revolution is the return of the subject to herself...". Without the production of the contradiction between classes as mutual involvement, we necessarily remain within the perspective of the revolution as affirmation, as the triumph of the proletariat; to this perspective we counterpose the revolution as the abolition of the proletariat in the abolition of capital, within the movement where "the defence of its interests" leads the proletariat to consider its definition as a class to be an external constraint. "The return of the subject to herself/itself" doesn't really transcend the contradiction, or its terms, but it simply represents the return of the subject to itself (this smacks of teleology). Even the title of the journal 'Aufheben' raises this whole question.

From then on, one has the tendency when reading the text to understand the supersession of the capitalist mode of production as something rather formal. For example, the Bolsheviks are 'reproached' for planning 'from above'. According to this view the Bolsheviks developed capitalism because of the forms they decided to adopt for the labour process: one-man management, bourgeois specialists, Taylorism; but didn't they rather 'develop' because wage labour remained? Must we deduce that communism is planning 'from below'? Can we now maintain the Marxian vision of communism as the "free association of the producers", in the real subsumption of labour to capital (assuming that the passage of Capital on the commodity deals with communist society). This would mean that we limit ourselves to the forms of organization of production, which the article denounces with a concise and effective formula: "Communism is a content - the abolition of wage labour - not a form."

The critique of the Bolshevik counter-revolution remains formal, in the sense that it is not related to the content of the revolution in this historic phase of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital, a phase in which the revolution could only lead to the rising strength of the class within capital and its affirmation as a dominant pole of society. The Bolshevik counter-revolution then necessarily articulates itself with the revolution. The Lefts, even the Dutch/German Left, never grasped the true nature of the Russian Revolution: a revolution whose content was the autonomous affirmation of the class and which found, in labour's claim to be able to manage society, that is, in labour's very strength within capital in the transition to real subsumption, the revolution's own limitation turned against itself. The parties of the Second International were in a position to take charge of and formalize this counter-revolution to differing degrees according to their specific situations. The revolution as affirmation of the class transforms itself relentlessly into the management of capital, turning into counter-revolution; revolution provides counter-revolution with its own content. In 'The Unknown Revolution', Voline relates a 'little scene' he witnessed. In a factory, the workers had started to organize their transactions with other firms themselves. A representative of Bolshevik authority arrives, and, using threats, orders the end of this type of activity, because the state is undertaking it. Of course, this did not go without confrontation, without opposition, but is it possible to imagine an exchange which would not take a form alienated from the exchangers connected by it?

The absence of the mutual involvement between proletariat and capital in their contradiction, in our reading of this article, very often gives us the impression that we are dealing with a communist project that is unvarying, but subject to the objective conditions which, after having as it were been chased out through the front door, have the tendency to return through the back door. Hence the presentation of objectivism or of economic determinism as 'errors', as 'deviations', and the incapacity of the article really to go beyond a history of ideas. There is the proletariat, there is capital. The latter evolved, the former experiencing this evolution as 'class composition'. But the evolution of these terms isn't understood as the history of their relationship. They are in contradiction, but this contradiction is only a mutual, reflexive relation and not a self-differentiating totality. Thus history is understood as the history of capital, subject to the constraint of working class struggle, but not as that of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital. Therefore the revolution and communism cannot really be historicized. It's no use adding on a subjective approach from the working class viewpoint. The point of view has changed, but the problematic of objectivity has not been superseded. This is what the article glimpses when the subject is workerism, of which it doesn't manage to formulate a critique other than economic.

If one considers the central problem of objectivism, its critique begins with the production of a theory in which we grasp exploitation and the falling rate of profit as the contradiction between proletariat and capital, and not merely as the development of capital; the central concepts are those of exploitation and accumulation. As long as the revolution could only present itself as the affirmation of the proletariat (formal subsumption, first phase of real subsumption), the contradiction of the capitalist mode of production as dependent on the mutual involvement between proletariat and capital was unimaginable, because then the negation of capital could only be, ipso facto, the negation of the proletariat. And so the revolution as formal subsumption of labour to capital and in the first phase of its real subsumption, as affirmation of the proletariat, becomes inevitably an economism. If the revolution is the affirmation of the class, in making revolution, the proletariat must necessarily resolve a contradiction of capitalism of which it is not one of the limits but simply the best placed executant, so that the supersession of this contradiction, far from being the proletariat's own disappearance, becomes its triumph. The strategy based on 'proletarian subjectivity' doesn't go beyond this problematic.

As a pole in the contradiction within the capitalist mode of production, the proletariat's existence and practice can only match the historical course of its contradiction with capital as exploitation and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. This is the whole importance of the crisis theory of Mattick, which in its objectivism, can't be used as it is, and must be criticized from our point of view. It is fundamental to keep an analysis of the crisis on the basis of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The law of the falling rate of profit only needs to be deobjectified, "dereified" as the article says. When we read in the article: "it (capital) creates a limit to its accumulation in the fact that it can only produce for the market.", even if it goes on to say: "capital constantly revolutionizes relations of production in order to permit their continual expansion. This need constantly to transform social relations means that capital is constantly driven to confront the working class", and the matter is ended with: "it is possible that the crisis creates the conditions in which the proletariat begins to oppose its interests to those of capital.", we are led to believe that:

1) The crisis is situated at the level of the market,
2) The strategy of capital is the development of the productive forces,
3) The revolutionary driving force of the proletariat is the defence of its interests.

On one side the crisis, on the other the class struggle; a meeting of divergent interests shaping capital's path, but the development of capital and the crisis are not understood in themselves as class struggle.

As the article fully shows in its key developments, the theoretical bedrock of objectivism lies in the separation between the class struggle and the development of the capitalist mode of production. But the basis of this theoretical separation is the impossibility of the proletariat itself, in this whole formal subsumption period of class struggle, and even under certain current forms, of being an element of the contradiction to be overturned. It is only the contradiction's downtrodden extremity and only has the role of gravedigger. Capitalism is only understood as a set of conditions, evolving towards an optimal situation with regard to an essential and immutable revolutionary nature of the proletariat, even if historically this nature fails to manifest itself. The critique of objectivism cannot only be the critique of the separation between class struggle and capitalist development, it can only be achieved in the critique of the concept of the revolutionary nature of the proletariat, as determined once and for all, and adjusting itself according to conditions. The proletariat is only revolutionary in the contradiction which opposes it to capital. In that case, it is not a nature which is determined, but a relation and a history. As long a revolutionary being of the proletariat is presupposed, against this being conditions are necessary, which are necessarily objective conditions. As long as there is no critique of this conception of the revolutionary nature of the proletariat, there is no way out of the objectivist problematic. As long as this critique has not been made, it is impossible to go beyond the point of view governed by a dichotomy between class struggles and economic contradictions, which are only connected by relations of mutual determination.

It is in realizing the limits of workerism and in distancing themselves from it, that there is a sense that Aufheben are confronted by this problem. The article expresses well that there's a limit in considering the class struggle as the clash of two strategies in the workerist conception, but without explicitly putting forward the mutual involvement between the classes as defining their contradiction. Workerism only makes an inversion of objectivism, without going beyond it, it only adds a subjective aspect such as Negri's working class 'self-valorisation' which tags on an additional determination in the relation between proletariat and capital, but one that doesn't change the conception of this relation. Having a sum of determinations, it is thought that the totality of this relation has been reached, but the relation has not been deobjectified, a subjective determination has just been added in opposition to the objective. Aufheben reproaches the workerists for not doing enough to preserve the objectivity of the reproduction of capital and for merely declaring that "everything is class struggle". Not managing to grasp objectivity and economy as a necessary moment in the reproduction of the contradiction between capital and the proletariat, Aufheben ends up with a sort of position of mitigation: you must deobjectify the contradiction between capital and the proletariat, but keep aside a little objectivity, above all for periods of counter-revolution. Objectivism has only been surpassed from the point of view of the proletariat and preserved as the reality of capitalism. The critique was not a deconstruction of objectivity and its reconstruction as economy, as necessary moment of relation between classes, it was only the same thing seen from another viewpoint. On this subject, the question of the 'incompleteness' of Capital is particularly futile. What can be deemed Marx's opinion on the wage as class struggle in Wages, Price and Profit or in 'Speech on Free Trade', allows no doubt to hang over the fact that the struggle 'for' (and even 'over': Negri) the wage, will never result in anything but the wage. As for 'small circulation' as a space for workers' control, this is a product of that 'optimism' among the workerists, as evoked by the article, which is now foundering even in the reformist political arena.

Paradoxically, the addition of a subjective side, a 'working class point of view', only serves to confirm, to reinforce, the objectivism which has been renounced as something that is to be dismantled. It merely adds an 'active' supplement to it.

In the same manner, from the side of the understanding of the actions of the capitalist class, the idea still lingers that the maintenance and the reproduction of the social relation of exploitation depends on other types of relations from those that it brings into play to reproduce itself and which presuppose itself. While criticising Radical Chains, the article presents the following analysis: "the idea of a perfect regulation of needs under the law of value is a myth. The law of value and capital have always been constrained first by forms of landed property and of community which preceded it, and then by the class struggle growing up within it. Capital is compelled to relate to the working class by other means than the wage, and the state is its necessary way of doing this. The Poor Law expressed one strategy for controlling the working class: administration expresses a different one. Once we consider the law of value as always constrained, then the idea of its partial suspension loses its resonance." And we would be tempted to add: it is the very idea that capital relates to the working class by other means than the value, the wage etc., which loses all resonance.

If indeed it is accurate that being "always constrained" forms part of the definition, then the state, its civil services, its army and police, are attributes of value, of wages and exploitation. As the article says, it is not enough merely to remain with the most abstract presentation of value at the beginning of Capital, it is necessary to consider value in its application. Through the state, capital does not relate to the working class through other means than wages.

If the self-presupposition [l'autoprésupposition] of capital-in-general is considered, the transformation of surplus product into surplus value then into additional capital can never taken for granted because of the very laws of capital (that is falling rate of profit, and constraint on the exploitation of labour power). In this moment of self-presupposition, the activity of the capitalist class always consists of throwing the proletariat back into a situation of exploitation (through political action, violence, bankruptcies, lay-offs, etc.). We have not got out of an analysis of the self-presupposition of capital and we have the relation between the proletariat and the capitalist class as specific and contradictory activities. The danger would lie in the autonomisation of the poles of the contradiction of the capitalist mode of production, the proletariat and capital, into two strategies.

For us, objectivism is linked to two sets of causes: the first lie in an epoch of class struggle which poses revolution and communism as affirmation of the proletariat and therefore excludes the latter from the field of contradictions of the mode of production. Secondly, the proletariat only takes advantage of 'economic' contradictions of which it is supposedly not one of the components.

A constant of the reproduction of capital that we call its self-presupposition is the very basis of economic reality: all the terms of the reproduction of society reappear as 'objectivized' conditions of reproduction on the side of capital at the end of each cycle.

The result of this is that the concept and critique of objectivism cannot serve as a conductor for an analysis of the problems of developing 'theory'. The decisive break in 'theory' cuts through both objectivism and the theories taking its critique on board. The line of fracture and discrimination in the development of theory is located between the class struggle bringing the abolition of capital as affirmation of the proletariat and the class struggle bringing the proletariat's own abolition in the abolition of capital, that is the very content of the transition from formal subsumption to real subsumption and of the latter's history. If we do not start from this basis, then one has the impression that 'theory' has a history. In the absence of this historical critique which says why the revolution is at a particular moment in time determinist, economist, objectivist, the internal critique of which the article has so much trouble getting rid, suffers from only considering objectivism as a theoretical 'error' or 'deviation', or even as determined by 'objective' conditions.

"As Pannekoek pointed out, the real decline of capitalism is the self-emancipation of the working class". This is the conclusion of the affected critical brushing aside realised in the text, but here one is at the beginning of the essential problem: what is the contradiction between the proletariat and capital, as epoch of the capitalist mode of production, which brings about communism? As the article states well, it is not a question of defining "the level of development of the productive forces incompatible with capitalist relations of production", but rather of historically defining the content and the structure of a contradiction between classes. It is true that this was not the subject of the article, but reading it makes us wish that this were the subject of its conclusion. We remain a little dissatisfied to read: "from time to time, the relation between capitalist development and the class reaches a point of possible rupture. Revolutionaries and the class take their chance; if the wave fails to go beyond capital, capital continues to a higher level."

The whole history of this mode of production is yet to be written as history of the contradiction between classes. Can we remain with the vision presented in the article of a succession of revolutionary onslaughts never victorious so far, always defeated, and understand their defeat as being down either to exterior (objective) conditions, or the force of counter-revolution, unrelated to the historical nature of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital, which is revealed as much in the revolution as in the counter-revolution? This is a vision which returns inexorably to a revolutionary essence of the proletariat, identical in each successive onslaught. The "organic relation between class struggle and capitalist development", which forms the very bedrock of this whole article, is not the relation of reciprocal determinations of two elements defined a priori in themselves. It is really an organic relation and in that the particularisation of a concrete totality which only exists in the parties and their mutual demands. The contradiction between the proletariat and capital is the development of capital.


[1] TC themselves would probably not agree with the way Marx approaches the issues here. In their critique of our articles they question our use of the concept of alienation. For TC, Marx's thematic of alienation and aufheben in the Economic Manuscripts and The Holy Family is not continued in his later work. This is one of the points we have been trying to make sense of by looking at some other of TC's writings - for example: "Let us not confuse 'alienated labour' as it functions in the Manuscripts and the alienation of labour that we will find in the Grundrisse or in Capital. In the first case, alienated labour is the self-movement of the human essence as generic being; in the second, it is no longer a question of human essence, but of historically determined social relations, in which the worker is separated in part or in whole from the conditions of his labour, of his product and of his activity itself" ('Pour en Finire avec la Critique du Travail', TC, No. 17). We argue that, though Marx's treatment gets steadily more historical and more concrete, the thematic of alienation is essentially the same. This is something we will deal with in our response to their critique.

[2] In Capital Marx does not talk about private property because he subsumes it in the commodity (a society of generalized commodity production is one of absolute private property.) In his earlier writings, when he did talk of the system of private property, Marx's attention was already on the capital-labour relation. In the previous year to The Holy Family, Marx had written: "the antithesis between propertylessness and property is still an indifferent antithesis, not grasped in its active connection, its inner relation, not yet grasped as contradiction, as long as it is not understood as the antithesis between labour and capital. ... labour, the subjective essence of private property as exclusion of property and capital, objective labour as exclusion of labour, constitutes private property in its developed relation of contradiction: a vigorous relation, driving towards resolution" (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 345, section on Private Property and Communism). Marx does not change his object of study when he focuses on the relation between labour and capital rather than between alienated labour and private property because the latter is just a more developed and concrete expression of the former. In the form of wage labour and capital, 'private property', which existed before capital, is brought to its highest point of contradiction and antagonism.

[3] Marx, at the end of 'Wages, Price and Profit', advised trade unions that instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!".

[4] Even the outstanding example of revolutionary syndicalism - the IWW of the first decades of the twentieth century, which really emphasized the 'abolition of the wage system' - was not immune. The trajectory of many of its militants towards the American Communist Party even as it Stalinized did not come from nowhere. As Wright notes, "the sympathy within certain Wobbly circles for technicians and Taylorist principles betrayed a growing detachment from the IWW's initial rejection of the capitalist organisation of labour." (Steve Wright, Storming Heaven (London: Pluto Press, 2002), p 195, citing La Formazione dell'Operaio Massa negli USA 1898/1922, pp 179-187).

[5] "With the bourgeois economists we have no longer anything to quarrel over. Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earth's surface-not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity." (Revolution Betrayed, Ch. 1.) Even his criticisms of the USSR are often for not being productive and efficient enough, which is not surprising coming from the man who, when he was in charge, advocated military discipline for the workforce.

[6] See M. Seidman, Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona during the Popular Fronts (UCLA Press, 1993).

[7] Of course, the Nazis were not the first to put the national in socialism: the social democrats supported the First World War, a great deal of the way Stalin sold 'Socialism in One Country' was by appealing to the patriotism of the population, and we see later examples in Labour Zionism and various 'third world' socialisms from Tanzania to Cambodia.

[8] Just as Nazism and Italian fascism incorporated large parts of social democracy into their regimes, after WW2, social democracy incorporated a great deal of fascism into the post-war order or, as Bordigists provocatively put it, "while the fascist nations lost WW2, fascism won".

[9] Of course, by concentrating on the leaders there is an avoidance of the role of CNT rank and file militants in disciplining the Spanish working class and mobilizing for the war effort.

[10] See Paul Mattick, 'The Barricades Must be Torn Down'.

[11] Leftism, as a descriptive and derogatory term for ideological positions and practices that present themselves as oppositional but are actually within bourgeois politics, is a useful shorthand. However, its use as an explanation for the failure of movements tends to the dogmatic assumption that somebody/we already possess the correct 'non-leftist politics' and the problem is simply getting them across. (See also footnote 30 in the review article, 'From Operaismo to "Autonomist Marxism"', in this issue.)

[12] See 'The Proletariat as Subject and as Representation' in The Society of the Spectacle. Also making the point that one must "distinguish between workers' practice and workers ideology" and relating directly to TC's arguments is the Troploin text 'To Work or not to Work: Is that the Question?'

[13] See the account of the significance of the mass strike in Philippe Bourrinet's article 'The Workers' Councils in the Theory of the Dutch-German Communist Left'.

[14] The most significant tendency were the Friends of Durruti - see The Friends of Durruti Group: 1937-1939 by Agustin Guillamon (AK Press 1996).

[15] See Martin Glaberman, Wartime Strikes (Detroit: Bewick Editions, 1980).

[16] The ultra-left is certainly not the only point of break. Well before the first world war, social democracy had already produced groups like the 'Young People' in Germany and the SPGB in Britain; later, anarcho-syndicalism produced the Friends of Durruti Group. Trotskyism has produced numerous breakaways, such as the followers of Munis, Socialism or Barbarism, the Johnson-Forrest tendency; Italian Marxist-Leninism produced operaismo/autonomist Marxism and so on. However, while many of these are often also linked with upsurges in the class struggle, none were connected to something as international, deep and obviously threatening to capitalism as that wave of struggle which perhaps peaked in 1919 and which is irretrievably associated with the 1917 Russian Revolution. Also, it is no accident that many of the tendencies emerging later in the twentieth century find themselves moving towards, and labelled by their previous comrades, as ultra-leftism.

[17] The first congress had not really included any foreign communists.

[18] The most orthodox followers of Bordiga supported participation in trade unions and saw a progressive - if bourgeois - role for third-world nationalism. Interestingly, many of those coming from the Italian Left have tended towards the German/Dutch ultra-left positions on these issues. Bilan, the Italian Left grouping in exile in France in the thirties, started questioning involvement in unions and the idea of any progressive role for nationalism. Two main offshoots of the Italian Left - the ICC (which claims the Bilan tradition) and the IBRP (whose main member is Battaglia Comunista, a group formed in a significant split from orthodox Bordigism in 1953), while maintaining a strong 'Italian Left' belief in the party have moved to anti-union and anti-national liberation positions historically closer to the German/Dutch Left.

[19] See the Antagonism pamphlet Bordiga versus Pannekoek. It is important to see that, on inspection, there are elements in the Italian Left conception of the party that differ from that of Lenin and 'Leninists'. Also, as we see with anarchist and council communist groups, the rejection of the term 'party' does not mean that a group or tendency escapes its problems. For a discussion; again see the Antagonism pamphlet and also Camatte's Origin and Function of the Party Form.

[20] The main place we have dealt with this history was in Part III of our Russia article, Aufheben 8 (1999). For excellent accounts of these two wings of the historic ultra-left see The Italian Left and The Dutch German Left, published by the ICC. The books were both written by Philippe Bourrinet who has since left the organization we imagine for good reasons. His own revised editions can be found at

[21] That is, a policy of using parliament as a revolutionary tribunal to denounce parliament and the capitalist system.

[22] This is perhaps compounded in Britain and America where many moving towards ultra-left politics do so via anarchism which has always had a great tendency to define itself against the 'trots' or the 'marxists'.

[23] To pick an example from the British context, the largest leftist group, the SWP, early on distinguished itself from mainstream Trotskyism by adopting a state capitalist line on the USSR. However, on just about every other issue, and in how it relates itself to the 'labour movement', it has conducted itself in exceptionally moderate and even centrist ways. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Maoist and Third Worldist leftist groups will support Stalinist and bureaucratic regimes elsewhere, while opposing the official labour movement - Labour party and Trade Unions. Individuals can be just as contradictory.

[24] One can, for example, identify with the Dutch-German Left and dismiss Bordiga as a rigid, or at best principled, Leninist; or identify with Bordiga, and see the council communist ultra-left as syndicalist.

[25] To do something we don't often do - quote Engels - "Communism is not a doctrine but a movement springing from facts rather than principles. Communists presuppose not such and such a philosophy but all past history and, above all, its actual and effective results in the civilized countries.... In so far as communism is a theory, it is the theoretical expression of the situation of the proletariat in its struggle and the theoretical summary of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat." ('The Communists and Karl Heinzen', cited in 'On Organisation' in J. Camatte, This World we Must Leave).

[26] See John Holloway's take of this undeveloped point in Change the World Without Taking Power (Pluto Press, 2002), pp. 80-88.

[27] See Aufheben 1 (Autumn 1992).

[28] We are largely writing this from what has been translated by them; TC and others could tell the story more fully, though probably in a more partisan way - for example, their remark that Dauvé was "trying to spice up the ultra-left with an injection of Bordigism".

[29] See R. Gregoire & F. Perlman's (1969) Worker-Student Action Committees France May '68.

[30] That such modern ultra-left currents existed in France was partly a product of the fact that exiles from both wings had taken up residence there in the '20s and '30s. Indeed, the Italian left exiles group Bilan had done considerable theoretical work. See Bourrinet's The Italian Left and The Dutch-German Left, op. cit.

[31] Informations et Correspondence Ouvrières (Workers' News and Correspondence) developed from Informations Liasons Ouvrières (ILO) which parted from S ou B in 1958 when Castoriadis/Chalieu took the latter in a more 'Leninist' direction. (ICO, un Point de Vue). There is a pamphlet on it by a leading participant Henri Simon whose group Echanges continues the tradition. He provides a short account in Red and Black Notes, 5.

[32] See The Veritable Split in the Situationist International and late documents in Ken Knabb's Situationist International Anthology (Bureau of Public Secrets).

[33] Some examples are Camatte and Invariance, Dauvé and Mouvement Communiste, and other groups that "of which," as Bordiga would say, "- with great pleasure - we do not know the names and personalities", such as Négation and the Organization des Jeunes Travailleurs Révolutionnaires, Communism: a World without Money.

[34] These developments are described nicely in the American translator's introduction to the 'Barrot' text 'Critique of the Situationist International' in What is Situationism?, ed. S. Home (AK Press, 1996), pp. 53-60.

[35] The collections 'Bordiga and the Passion for Communism' and 'Espece Humaine et Crout Terrestre et autres Articles' give a more interesting picture than the selection one encounters through the orthodox left communist press.

[36] Another text that expresses the critique of self-management is Négation's Lip and the Self-Managed Counter Revolution (Detroit: Black and Red).

[37] The International Communist Current, known in the UK through their organ World Revolution.

[38] Goldner's 'Remaking of the American Working Class', while suggesting interesting perspectives on many issues, the economic analysis Goldner attempts to ground them in is based on a fatally flawed misreading of Marx.

[39] For example we can agree with TC that one would not want to follow Camatte in rejecting class. As the English publisher of the Invariance texts, Capital and Community: The Results of the Immediate Process of Production and the Economic Work of Marx writes: "it is important to understand how class has been transformed, rather than to abandon class analysis."

[40] For the distinction, see Marx's 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production', Appendix to the Penguin edition of Capital, vol. 1, p. 1019.

[41] Bourgeois thought is not just the thought of the bourgeoisie or other supporters of capitalism; rather it is the categories of thought which express correctly the real appearances of capitalist social forms but do not grasp them as appearances, instead taking these categories positively, affirmatively. Just as the appearance of capital as things (money, machines etc.) and us as separate bourgeois individuals is a real moment produced through capitalist social relations but covering the real flow of life captured as the process of value - alienated labour - our attempts to grasp this world generally reproduce rigid categories of separate subject and object and do not get behind the appearances. The difficulty of TC's writing may we think be a consequence their attempt to resist slipping into fetishized forms of thought which Marxism, as an positivistic ideology based on Marx's insights but distorted back into bourgeois limits, has so often fallen into.

[42] (Translators' note:) Immigrants without legal documentation.

[43] The issues in which these articles were originally published are now out of print but are available on the Aufheben website.

[44] (Translator's note:) 'A propos du texte 'Sur la décadence de Aufheben' appeared (in French) in Théorie Communiste, 15.

[45] To be fair, this point is from a place in the text where we are explaining and acknowledging good points in Radical Chains' perspective.


13 years 6 months ago

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"[18] The most orthodox followers of Bordiga supported participation in trade unions and saw a progressive - if bourgeois - role for third-world nationalism. Interestingly, many of those coming from the Italian Left have tended towards the German/Dutch ultra-left positions on these issues. Bilan, the Italian Left grouping in exile in France in the thirties, started questioning involvement in unions and the idea of any progressive role for nationalism. Two main offshoots of the Italian Left - the ICC (which claims the Bilan tradition) and the IBRP (whose main member is Battaglia Comunista, a group formed in a significant split from orthodox Bordigism in 1953), while maintaining a strong 'Italian Left' belief in the party have moved to anti-union and anti-national liberation positions historically closer to the German/Dutch Left."

Contrary to this footnote, Battaglia Comunista was not formed in any split with Bordigists. Bourrinet's History of the Italian Communist Left contradicts this, not to mention the Prometeo archives themselves. The journal Prometeo and Battaglia Comunista, the paper with it were founded 1943-45. Bordiga's "International Communist Party" was formed in 1952. Militants of Prometeo and Battaglia Comunista have always maintained that they are not "Bordigists". The "Internationalist Communist Party" as it was formed in that period from 1943-45 in Italy was the largest formation of the Communist-Left since the KAPD. What happened after Bordiga's period of house arrest and withdrawal from political activity from 1926 to 1946, was that Bordiga never quite approved of the new Partito Comunista Internazionalista so he never joined it. Between 1946 and 1952 he wrote articles for Prometeo until he felt it necessary to return back to the political positions from which the PCInt and the group around Prometeo had distanced themselves. I think in this respect that the history of this tendency, not treated with honesty, serves as an excuse for a politically obtuse analysis and the misrepresentation of others ideas. To put things in perspective Bilan was a tiny review, an even smaller offshoot of a small political tendency. Prometeo was the journal published on and off, that was the central organ of International Bureau of the Fractions of the Communist Left and later the central organ of the Internationalist Communist Party.

As far as I know the Italian left, the larger Communist-Left in general, had fairly consistent views on nationalism and so-called "national liberation" movements. A few exceptions to this arose as a result of Bordiga's late political development and the splits that came out of his International Communist Party from 1964 to 1982 (more or less for the main Bordigist groups) which reflected more the political weight of "national liberation" movements of that time.

The term "ultra-left" says more about those who use it than those it is supposed to describe. It indicates a centrist position.


13 years 6 months ago

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Some thoughts by Henri Simon on the question of workers' self-management, in a letter to The Commune: